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Full text of "The World S Last Night And Other Essays"

230 L673wo 
Lewis, Clive 




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THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 
AND OTHER ESSAYS 



ALSO BY C. S. LEWIS 

The Screwtape Letters 

Miracles 
The Problem of Pain 

Transposition 
The Pilgrim's Regress 

The Great Divorce 

George MacDonald: An Anthology 

The Abolition of Man 

Mere Christianity 

Surprised by Joy 

Reflections on the Psalms 

For Children 
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 

Prince Caspian 
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 

The Silver Chair 

The Horse and His Boy 

The Magician's Nephew 

The Last Battle 

Fiction 
Out of the Silent Planet 

Perelandra 

That Hideous Strength 
Till We Have Faces 



The World's Last Night 



AND OTHER ESSAYS BY 



C. S. Lewis 



Harcourt, Brace and Company New York 



1952, i955> 1 9$> J 959> 1 9 Q b 7 c - s - Lewis 
"Screwtape Proposes a Toast" copyright 1959 by Helen Joy Lewis 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be 

reproduced in any form or by any mechanical means, 

including mimeograph and tape recorder, without 

permission in writing from the publisher. 

first edition 

"The Efficacy of Prayer*' appeared in The Atlantic Monthly (January, 
1 959) " n Obstinacy in Belief," a paper read to the Socratic Club, 
Oxford, in The Sewanee Review (Autumn, 1955); "Lilies That Fester" 
in The Twentieth Century (April, 1955); "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" 
in The Saturday Evening Post (December, 1959); "Good Work and 
Good Works" in Catholic Art Quarterly (Christmas, 1959); "Religion 
and Rocketry" in Christian Herald (as "Will We Lose God in Outer 
Space?") (April, 1958); "The World's Last Night" in Religion in Life 
(as "The Christian Hope Its Meaning for Today") (Winter, 1952). 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 60-5439 
Printed in the United States of America 



CONTENTS 

ONE: THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER: 3 
TWO: ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF'. 1$ 

THREE: LILIES THAT FESTER: 51 

FOUR: SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST; 51 

FIVE: GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS: ^1 

SIX*. RELIGION AND ROCKETRY: 83 
SEVEN: THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT: 93 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 
AND OTHER ESSAYS 



ONE THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER 



years ago I got up 
one morning Intending to have my hair cut in prepara- 
tion for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened 
made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to 
put the haircut off too. But then there began the most 
unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a 
voice saying, "Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut/* 
In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my 
barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of 
many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes 
been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door 
he said, "Oh, I was praying you might come today/' 
And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have 
been of no use to him. 

It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot 
rigorously prove a causal connection between the bar- 
ber's prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It 
might be accident. 

I have stood by the bedside of a woman whose thigh- 
bone was eaten through with cancer and who had thriv- 
ing colonies of the disease in many other bones as well. 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

It took three people to move her In bed. The doctors 
predicted a few months of life; the nurses (who often 
know better), a few weeks. A good man laid his hands 
on her and prayed. A year later the patient was walking 
(uphill, too, through rough woodland) and the man 
who took the last X-ray photos was saying, "These 
bones are as solid as rock. It's miraculous/' 

But once again there is no rigorous proof. Medicine, 
as all true doctors admit, is not an exact science. We 
need not invoke the supernatural to explain the falsifi- 
cation of its prophecies. You need not, unless you 
choose, believe in a causal connection between the pray- 
ers and the recovery. 

The question then arises, "What sort of evidence 
would prove the efficacy of prayer?" The thing we pray 
for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not 
going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indis- 
putably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle 
had occurred because of your prayers. The answer 
surely is that a compulsive empirical proof such as we 
have in the sciences can never be attained. 

Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity 
of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established 
by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without 
exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people 
prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not 
prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. 
For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct 
from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. 
And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of 



THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER 

finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes 
grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable "success" 
in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. 
It would prove something much more like magic a 
power in certain human beings to control, or compel, 
the course of nature. 

There are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament 
which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable 
granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they 
really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet 
a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the 
holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a cer- 
tain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the 
idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infal- 
lible gimmick may be dismissed. 

Other things are proved not simply by experience but 
by those artificially contrived experiences which we call 
experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will 
pass over the objection that no Christian could take part 
in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: 
"You must not try experiments on God, your Master." 
Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible? 

I have seen it suggested that a team of people the 
more the better should agree to pray as hard as they 
knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients 
in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then 
you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures 
and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the 
experiment at various times and places so as to elimi- 
nate the influence of irrelevant factors. 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer 
could go on under such conditions. "Words without 
thoughts never to heaven go/' says the King in Hamlet. 
Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team o 
properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for 
our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of 
the sick unless the end you have in view is their recov- 
ery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recov- 
ery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those 
in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering 
should be relieved; you are doing it to find out what 
happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of 
your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever 
your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not 
praying. The experiment demands an impossibility. 

Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtain- 
able. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if 
we remember that prayer is request and compare it with 
other specimens of the same thing. 

We make requests of our fellow creatures as well as 
of God: we ask for the salt, we ask for a raise in pay, we 
ask a friend to feed the cat while we are on our holidays, 
we ask a woman to marry us. Sometimes we get what we 
ask for and sometimes not. But when we do, it is not 
nearly so easy as one might suppose to prove with sci- 
entific certainty a causal connection between the ask- 
ing and the getting. 

Your neighbour may be a humane person who would 
not have let your cat starve even if you had forgotten to 
make any arrangement* Your employer is never so 

6 



THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER 

likely to grant your request for a raise as when he is 
aware that you could get better money from a rival 
firm and is quite possibly intending to secure you by a 
raise in any case. As for the lady who consents to marry 
y OU are you sure she had not decided to do so already? 
Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, 
not the cause, of her decision. A certain important con- 
versation might never have taken place unless she had 
intended that it should. 

Thus in some measure the same doubt that hangs 
about the causal efficacy of our prayers to God hangs also 
about our prayers to man. Whatever we get we might 
have been going to get anyway. But only, as I say, in 
some measure. Our friend, boss, and wife may tell us 
that they acted because we asked; and we may know 
them so well as to feel sure, first that they are saying 
what they believe to be true, and secondly that they un- 
derstand their own motives well enough to be right. 
But notice that when this happens our assurance has not 
been gained by the methods of science. We do not try 
the control experiment of refusing the raise or breaking 
off the engagement and then making our request again 
under fresh conditions. Our assurance is quite different 
in kind from scientific knowledge. It is born out of our 
personal relation to the other parties; not from know- 
ing things about them but from knowing them. 

Our assurance if we reach an assurance that God 
always hears and sometimes grants our prayers, and that 
apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only 
come in the same sort of way. There can be no question 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide 
whether the successes are too numerous to be accounted 
for by chance. Those who best know a man best know 
whether, when he did what they asked, he did it be- 
cause they asked. I think those who best know God will 
best know whether He sent me to the barber's shop be- 
cause the barber prayed. 

For up till now we have been tackling the whole 
question in the wrong way and on the wrong level. The 
very question "Does prayer work?" puts us in the wrong 
frame of mind from the outset. "Work'*: as if it were 
magic, or a machine something that functions auto- 
matically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal 
contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (our- 
selves) and the utterly concrete Person. Prayer in the 
sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; 
confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its 
sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of 
God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. 
That He answers prayers is a corollary not necessarily 
the most important one from that revelation. What 
He does is learned from what He is. 

Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and 
commanded to us: "Give us our daily bread/* And no 
doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe 
that God ever really modifies His action in response to 
the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does 
not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness 
needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any 
of those things that are done by finite agents, whether 

8 



THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER 

living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our 
bodies miraculously without food; or give us food with- 
out the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowl- 
edge without the aid of learned men; or convert the 
heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils 
and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and 
wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. 
"God/' said Pascal, "instituted prayer in order to lend 
to His creatures the dignity of causality/' But not only 
prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. 
It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers 
should affect the course of events than that my other ac- 
tions should do so. They have not advised or changed 
God's mind that is, His over-all purpose. But that pur- 
pose will be realized in different ways according to the 
actions, including the prayers, o His creatures. / 

For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can 
possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to 
do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly 
and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect 
what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not 
fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite 
free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to in- 
volve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdica- 
tion. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are 
either privileged to share in the game or compelled to 
collaborate in the work, "to wield our little tridents/' 
Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before 
our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes 
something indeed, makes gods out of nothing. 

9 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

So at least it seems to me. But what I have offered 
can be, at the very best, only a mental model or symbol. 
All that we say on such subjects must be merely analog- 
ical and parabolic. The reality is doubtless not compre- 
hensible by our faculties. But we can at any rate try to 
expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a 
machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. 
Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our 
other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God 
Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate. 

It would be even worse to think of those who get what 
they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who 
have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of 
Christ in Gethsernane is answer enough to that. And I 
dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard 
from an experienced Christian: "I have seen many strik- 
ing answers to prayer and more than one that I thought 
miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: be- 
fore conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life 
proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are 
not only more frequent; they become more unmistak- 
able, more emphatic." 

Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? 
Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tor- 
tured death, "Why hast thou forsaken me?" When God 
becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least com- 
forted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery 
here which, even if I had the power, I might not have 
the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like 
you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, be- 



10 



THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER 

yond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty 
conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, 
we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, 
we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more 
desperate posts in the great battle. 



11 



TWO - ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 



CAPERS have more than 
once been read to the Socratic Club at Oxford in which 
a contrast was drawn between a supposedly Christian 
attitude and a supposedly scientific attitude to belief. 
We have been told that the scientist thinks it his duty 
to proportion the strength of his belief exactly to the 
evidence; to believe less as there is less evidence and to 
withdraw belief altogether when reliable adverse evi- 
dence turns up. We have been told that, on the contrary, 
the Christian regards it as positively praiseworthy to be- 
lieve without evidence, or in excess of the evidence, or 
to maintain his belief unmodified in the teeth of stead- 
ily increasing evidence against it. Thus a "faith that 
has stood firm," which appears to mean a belief immune 
from all the assaults of reality, is commended. 

If this were a fair statement of the case, then the co- 
existence within the same species of such scientists and 
such Christians would be a very staggering phenome- 
non. The fact that the two classes appear to overlap, as 
they do, would be quite inexplicable. Certainly all dis- 
cussion between creatures so different would be hope- 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

less. The purpose of this essay is to show that things are 
really not quite so bad as that. The sense in which sci- 
entists proportion their belief to the evidence, and the 
sense in which Christians do not, both need to be de- 
fined more closely. My hope is that when this has been 
done, though disagreement between the two parties 
may remain, they will not be left staring at one another 
in wholly dumb and desperate incomprehension. 

And first, a word about belief in general. I do not see 
that the state of "proportioning belief to evidence" is 
anything like so common in the scientific life as has been 
claimed. Scientists are mainly concerned not with be- 
lieving things but with finding things out. And no one, 
to the best of my knowledge, uses the word "believe" 
about things he has found out. The doctor says he "be- 
lieves" a man was poisoned before he has examined the 
body; after the examination, he says the man was poi- 
soned. No one says that he believes the multiplication 
table. No one who catches a thief red-handed says he 
believes that man was stealing. The scientist, when at 
work, that is, when he is a scientist, is labouring to es- 
cape from belief and unbelief into knowledge. Of course 
he uses hypotheses or supposals. I do not think these are 
beliefs. We must look, then, for the scientist's behaviour 
about belief not to his scientific life but to his leisure 
hours. 

In actual modern English usage the verb "believe/' 
except for two special usages, generally expresses a 
very weak degree of opinion. "Where is Tom?" "Gone 
to London, I 'believe/' The speaker would be only 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

mildly surprised if Tom had not gone to London after 
all. "What was the date?" "430 B.C., I believe/' The 
speaker means that he is far from sure. It is the same 
with the negative if it is put in the form "I believe not." 
("Is Jones coming up this term?" "I believe not/') But 
if the negative is put in a different form it then becomes 
one of the special usages I mentioned a moment ago. 
This is of course the form "I don't believe it," or the 
still stronger "I don't believe you/' "I don't believe it" 
is far stronger on the negative side than "I believe" is 
on the positive. "Where is Mrs. Jones?" "Eloped with 
the butler, I believe/' "I don't believe it/' This, espe- 
cially if said with anger, may imply a conviction which 
in subjective certitude might be hard to distinguish 
from knowledge by experience. The other special usage 
is "I believe" as uttered by a Christian. There is no 
great difficulty in making the hardened materialist un- 
derstand, however little he approves, the sort of mental 
attitude which this "I believe" expresses. The material- 
ist need only picture himself replying, to some report 
of a miracle, "I don't believe it," and then Imagine this 
same degree of conviction on the opposite side. He 
knows that he cannot, there and then, produce a refuta- 
tion of the miracle which would have the certainty of 
mathematical demonstration; but the formal possibility 
that the miracle might after all have occurred does not 
really trouble him any more than a fear that 
water might not be H and O. Similarly, the Christian 
does not necessarily claim to have demonstrative proof; 
but the formal possibility that God might not exist is 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

not necessarily present in the form of the least actual 
doubt. Of course there are Christians who hold that 
such demonstrative proof exists, just as there may be 
materialists who hold that there is demonstrative dis- 
proof. But then, whichever of them is right (if either is) 
while he retained the proof or disproof would be not 
believing or disbelieving but knowing. We are speaking 
of belief and disbelief in the strongest degree, but not 
of knowledge. Belief, in this sense, seems to me to be 
assent to a proposition which we think so overwhelm- 
ingly probable that there is a psychological exclusion of 
doubt, though not a logical exclusion of dispute. 

It may be asked whether belief (and of course disbe- 
lief) of this sort ever attaches to any but theologi- 
cal propositions. I think that many beliefs approximate 
to it; that is, many probabilities seem to us so strong that 
the absence of logical certainty does not induce in us the 
least shade of doubt. The scientific beliefs of those who 
are not themselves scientists often have this character, 
especially among the uneducated. Most of our beliefs 
about other people are of the same sort. The scientist 
himself, or he who was a scientist in the laboratory, has 
beliefs about his wife and friends which he holds, not 
indeed without evidence, but with more certitude than 
the evidence, if weighed in the laboratory manner, 
would justify. Most of my generation had a belief in the 
reality of the external world and of other people if 
you prefer it, a disbelief in solipsism far in excess 
of our strongest arguments. It may be true, as they now 
say, that the whole thing arose from category mistakes 

16 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

and was a pseudo-problem; but then we didn't know 
that In the twenties. Yet we managed to disbelieve 
in solipsism all the same. 

There is, of course, no question so far of belief with- 
out evidence. We must beware of confusion between the 
way in which a Christian first assents to certain proposi- 
tions and the way in which he afterwards adheres to 
them. These must be carefully distinguished. Of the 
second it is true, in a sense, to say that Christians do rec- 
ommend a certain discounting of apparent contrary 
evidence, and I will later attempt to explain why. But 
so far as 1 know it is not expected that a man should 
assent to these propositions in the first place without evi- 
dence or in the teeth of the evidence. At any rate, if any- 
one expects that, I certainly do not. And in fact, the 
man who accepts Christianity always thinks he had good 
evidence; whether, like Dante, fisici e metafisici argo- 
menti, or historical evidence, or the evidence of reli- 
gious experience, or authority, or all these together. For 
of course authority, however we may value it in this or 
that particular instance, is a kind of evidence. All of our 
historical beliefs, most of our geographical beliefs, 
many of our beliefs about matters that concern us in 
daily life, are accepted on the authority of other human 
beings, whether we are Christians, Atheists, Scientists, or 
Men-in-the-Street. 

It is not the purpose of this essay to weigh the evi- 
dence, of whatever kind, on which Christians base their 
belief. To do that would be to write a full-dress apolo- 
gia. All that I need do here is to point out that, at the 

17 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

very worst, this evidence cannot be so weak as to war- 
rant the view that all whom it convinces are indifferent 
to evidence. The history of thought seems to make 
this quite plain. We know, in fact, that believers are 
not cut off from unbelievers by any portentous inferior- 
ity of intelligence or any perverse refusal to think. 
Many of them have been people of powerful minds. 
Many of them have been scientists. We may suppose 
them to have been mistaken, but we must suppose that 
their error was at least plausible. We might, indeed, 
conclude that it was, merely from the multitude and 
diversity of the arguments against it. For there is not 
one case against religion, but many. Some say, like 
Capaneus in Statius, that it is a projection of our primi- 
tive fears, primus in orbe decs fecit timor: others, with 
Euhemerus, that it is all a "plant" put up by wicked 
kings, priests, or capitalists; others, with Tylor, that it 
comes from dreams about the dead; others, with Frazer, 
that it is a by-product of agriculture; others, like Freud, 
that it is a complex; the moderns that it is a category 
mistake. I will never believe that an error against which 
so many and various defensive weapons have been 
found necessary was, from the outset, wholly lacking in 
plausibility. All this "post haste and rummage in the 
land" obviously implies a respectable enemy. 

There are of course people in our own day to whom 
the whole situation seems altered by the doctrine of the 
concealed wish. They will admit that men, otherwise 
apparently rational, have been deceived by the argu- 
ments for religion. But they will say that they have been 

18 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

deceived first by their own desires and produced the ar- 
guments afterwards as a rationalization: that these ar- 
guments have never been intrinsically even plausible, 
but have seemed so because they were secretly 
weighted by our wishes. Now I do not doubt that this 
sort of thing happens in thinking about religion as in 
thinking about other things; but as a general explana- 
tion of religious assent it seems to me quite useless. On 
that issue our wishes may favour either side or both. 
The assumption that every man would be pleased, and 
nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that 
Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply prepos- 
terous. If Freud is right about the Oedipus complex, 
the universal pressure of the wish that God should not 
exist must be enormous, and atheism must be an ad- 
mirable gratification to one of our strongest suppressed 
impulses. This argument, in fact, could be used on the 
theistic side. But I have no intention of so using it. It 
will not really help either party. It is fatally ambivalent. 
Men wish on both sides: and again, there is fear-fulfil- 
ment as well as wish-fulfilment, and hypochondriac tem- 
peraments will always tend to think true what they most 
wish to be false. Thus instead of the one predicament on 
which our opponents sometimes concentrate there are 
in fact four. A man may be a Christian because he wants 
Christianity to be true. He may be an atheist because 
he wants atheism to be true. He may be an atheist be- 
cause he wants Christianity to be true. He may be a 
Christian because he wants atheism to be true. Surely 
these possibilities cancel one another out? They may be 

19 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

of some use in analysing a particular instance of belief 
or disbelief, where we know the case history, but as a 
general explanation of either they will not help us. I 
do not think they overthrow the view that there is evi- 
dence both for and against the Christian propositions 
which fully rational minds, working honestly, can assess 
differently. 

I therefore ask you to substitute a different and less 
tidy picture for that with which we began. In it, you re- 
member, two different kinds of men, scientists, who 
proportioned their belief to the evidence, and Chris- 
tians, who did not, were left facing one another across a 
chasm. The picture I should prefer is like this. All men 
alike, on questions which interest them, escape from 
the region of belief into that of knowledge when they 
can, and if they succeed in knowing, they no longer say 
they believe. The questions in which mathematicians 
are interested admit of treatment by a particularly clear 
and strict technique. Those of the scientist have their 
own technique, which is not quite the same. Those of 
the historian and the judge are different again. The 
mathematician's proof (at least so we laymen suppose) 
is by reasoning, the scientist's by experiment, the his- 
torian's by documents, the judge's by concurring sworn 
testimony. But all these men, as men, on questions out- 
side their own disciplines, have numerous beliefs to 
which they do not normally apply the methods of their 
own disciplines. It would indeed carry some suspicion 
of morbidity and even of insanity if they did. These be- 
liefs vary in strength from weak opinion to complete 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

subjective certitude. Specimens of such beliefs at their 
strongest are the Christian's "I believe" and the con- 
vinced atheist's "I don't believe a word of it. JJ The par- 
ticular subject-matter on which these two disagree does 
not, of course, necessarily involve such strength of belief 
and disbelief. There are some who moderately opine 
that there is, or is not, a God. But there are others whose 
belief or disbelief is free from doubt. And all these be- 
liefs, weak or strong, are based on what appears to the 
holders to be evidence; but the strong believers or dis- 
believers of course think they have very strong evidence. 
There is no need to suppose stark unreason on either 
side. We need only suppose error. One side has esti- 
mated the evidence wrongly. And even so, the mistake 
cannot be supposed to be of a flagrant nature; otherwise 
the debate would not continue. 

So much, then, for the way in which Christians come 
to assent to certain propositions. But we have now to 
consider something quite different; their adherence to 
their belief after it has once been formed. It is here that 
the charge of irrationality and resistance to evidence be- 
comes really important. For it must be admitted at once 
that Christians do praise such an adherence as if it 
were meritorious; and even, in a sense, more meritorious 
the stronger the apparent evidence against their faith 
becomes. They even warn one another that such appar- 
ent contrary evidence such "trials to faith" or "tempta- 
tions to doubt" may be expected to occur, and deter- 
mine in advance to resist them. And this is certainly 
shockingly unlike the behaviour we all demand of the 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

scientist or the historian in their own disciplines. There, 
to slur over or ignore the faintest evidence against a fa- 
vourite hypothesis, is admittedly foolish and shameful. 
It must be exposed to every test; every doubt must be 
invited. But then I do not admit that a hypothesis is a 
belief. And if we consider the scientist not among his 
hypotheses in the laboratory but among the beliefs in 
his ordinary life, I think the contrast between him and 
the Christian would be weakened. If, for the first time, 
a doubt of his wife's fidelity crosses the scientist's mind, 
does he consider it his duty at once to entertain this 
doubt with complete impartiality, at once to evolve a 
series of experiments by which it can be tested, and to 
await the result with pure neutrality of mind? No doubt 
it may come to that in the end. There are unfaithful 
wives; there are experimental husbands. But is such a 
course what his brother scientists would recommend 
to him (all of them, I suppose, except one) as the first 
step he should take and the only one consistent with his 
honour as a scientist? Or would they, like us, blame him 
for a moral flaw rather than praise him for an intellec- 
tual virtue if he did so? 

This is intended, however, merely as a precaution 
against exaggerating the difference between Christian 
obstinacy in belief and the behaviour of normal people 
about their non-theological beliefs. I am far from sug- 
gesting that the case I have supposed is exactly parallel 
to the Christian obstinacy. For of course evidence of the 
wife's infidelity might accumulate, and presently reach 
a point at which the scientist would be pitiably foolish 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

to disbelieve it. But the Christians seem to praise an 
adherence to the original belief which holds out against 
any evidence whatever. I must now try to show why such 
praise is in fact a logical conclusion from the original be- 
lief itself. 

This can be done best by thinking for a moment of 
situations in which the thing is reversed. In Christian- 
ity such faith is demanded of us; but there are situations 
in which we demand it of others. There are times when 
we can do all that a fellow creature needs if only he will 
trust us. In getting a dog out of a trap, in extracting a 
thorn from a child's finger, in teaching a boy to swim 
or rescuing one who can't, in getting a frightened be- 
ginner over a nasty place on a mountain, the one fatal 
obstacle may be their distrust. We are asking them to 
trust us In the teeth of their senses, their imagination, 
and their intelligence. We ask them to believe that what 
is painful will relieve their pain and that what looks 
dangerous is their only safety. We ask them to accept 
apparent impossibilities: that moving the paw farther 
back into the trap is the way to get it out that hurting 
the finger very much more will stop the finger hurting 
that water which is obviously permeable will resist 
and support the body that holding onto the only sup- 
port within reach is not the way to avoid sinking that 
to go higher and onto a more exposed ledge is the way 
not to fall. To support all these incredibilia we can rely 
only on the other party's confidence In us a confidence 
certainly not based on. demonstration, admittedly shot 
through with emotion, and perhaps, if we are strangers, 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

resting on nothing but such assurance as the look of 
our face and the tone of our voice can supply, or even, 
for the dog, on our smell. Sometimes, because of their 
unbelief, we can do no mighty works. But if we succeed, 
we do so because they have maintained their faith in us 
against apparently contrary evidence. No one blames us 
for demanding such faith. No one blames them for giv- 
ing it. No one says afterwards what an unintelligent dog 
or child or boy that must have been to trust us. If the 
young mountaineer were a scientist, it would not be 
held against him, when he came up for a fellowship, 
that he had once departed from Clifford's rule of evi- 
dence by entertaining a belief with strength greater 
than the evidence logically obliged him to. 

Now to accept the Christian propositions is ipso -facto 
to believe that we are to God, always, as that dog or 
child or bather or mountain climber was to us, only very 
much more so. From this it is a strictly logical conclu- 
sion that the behaviour which was appropriate to them 
will be appropriate to us, only very much more so. 
Mark: I am not saying that the strength of our original 
belief must by psychological necessity produce such be- 
haviour. I am saying that the content of our original be- 
lief by logical necessity entails the proposition that such 
behaviour is appropriate. If human life is in fact 
ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our 
real needs and of the way in which they can be satis- 
fied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori 
that His operations will often appear to us far from be- 
neficent and far from wise, and that it will be our high- 

24 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

est prudence to give Him our confidence in spite of this. 
This expectation is increased by the fact that when we 
accept Christianity we are warned that apparent evi- 
dence against it will occur evidence strong enough "to 
deceive if possible the very elect/' Our situation is ren- 
dered tolerable by two facts. One is that we seem to 
ourselves, besides the apparently contrary evidence, to 
receive favourable evidence. Some of it is in the form 
of external events: as when I go to see a man, moved by 
what I felt to be a whim, and find he has been praying 
that I should come to him that day. Some of it is more 
like the evidence on which the mountaineer or the dog 
might trust his rescuer the rescuer's voice, look, and 
smell. For it seems to us (though you, on your premisses, 
must believe us deluded) that we have something like 
a knowledge-by-acquaintance of the Person we be- 
lieve in, however imperfect and intermittent it may 
be. We trust not because "a God" exists, but because 
this God exists. Or if we ourselves dare not claim 
to "know" Him, Christendom does, and we trust at 
least some of its representatives in the same way: be- 
cause of the sort of people they are. The second fact is 
this. We think we can see already why, if our original 
belief is true, such trust beyond the evidence, against 
much apparent evidence, has to be demanded of us. For 
the question is not about being helped out of one trap 
or over one difficult place in a climb. We believe that 
His intention is to create a certain personal relation be- 
tween Himself and us, a relation really sui generis but 
analogically describable in terms of filial or of erotic 

25 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

love. Complete trust is an ingredient in that relation 
such trust as could have no room to grow except where 
there is also room for doubt. To love involves trusting 
the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much 
evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good 
intentions only when they are proved. No man is our 
friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence 
against them. Such confidence, between one man and 
another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral 
beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspi- 
cious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not ad- 
mired for the excellence of his logic. 

There is, you see, no real parallel between Christian 
obstinacy in faith and the obstinacy of a bad scientist 
trying to preserve a hypothesis although the evidence 
has turned against it. Unbelievers very pardonably 
get the impression that an adherence to our faith is like 
that, because they meet Christianity, if at all, mainly in 
apologetic works. And there, of course, the existence 
and beneficence of God must appear as a speculative 
question like any other. Indeed, it is a speculative ques- 
tion as long as it is a question at all. But once it has been 
answered in the affirmative, you get quite a new situa- 
tion. To believe that God at least this God exists is 
to believe that you as a person now stand in the pres- 
ence of God as a Person. What would, a moment before, 
have been variations in opinion, now become variations 
in your personal attitude to a Person. You are no longer 
faced with an argument which demands your assent, 
but with a Person who demands your confidence. A 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

faint analogy would be this. It is one thing to ask in 
vacua whether So-and-So will join us tonight, and an- 
other to discuss this when So-and-So 's honour is pledged 
to come and some great matter depends on his coming. 
In the first case it would be merely reasonable, as the 
clock ticked on, to expect him less and less. In the sec- 
ond, a continued expectation far into the night would 
be due to our friend's character if we had found him 
reliable before. Which of us would not feel slightly 
ashamed if, one moment after we had given him up, he 
arrived with a full explanation of his delay? We should 
feel that we ought to have known him better. , 

Now of course we see, quite as clearly as you, how 
agonizingly two-edged all this is. A faith of this sort, if it 
happens to be true, is obviously what we need, and it is 
infinitely ruinous to lack it. But there can be faith of 
this sort where it is wholly ungrounded. The dog may 
lick the face of the man who comes to take it out of the 
trap; but the man may only mean to vivisect it in South 
Parks Road when he has done so. The ducks who come 
to the call "Dilly, dilly, come and be killed" have confi- 
dence in the farmer's wife, and she wrings their necks 
for their pains. There is that famous French story of the 
fire in the theatre. Panic was spreading, the spectators 
were just turning from an audience into a mob. At that 
moment a huge bearded man leaped through the or- 
chestra onto the stage, raised his hand with a gesture full 
of nobility, and cried, "Que chacun regagne sa place." 
Such was the authority of his voice and bearing that 
everyone obeyed him. As a result they were all burned 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

to death, while the bearded man walked quietly out 
through the wings to the stage door, took a cab which 
was waiting for someone else, and went home to bed. 

That demand for our confidence which a true friend 
makes of us is exactly the same that a confidence trick- 
ster would make. That refusal to trust, which is sensi- 
ble in reply to a confidence trickster, is ungenerous and 
ignoble to a friend, and deeply damaging to our rela- 
tion with him. To be forewarned and therefore fore- 
armed against apparently contrary appearance is emi- 
nently rational if our belief is true; but if our belief is 
a delusion, this same forewarning and forearming 
would obviously be the method whereby the delusion 
rendered itself incurable. And yet again, to be aware of 
these possibilities and still to reject them is clearly the 
precise mode, and the only mode, in which our personal 
response to God can establish itself. In that sense the 
ambiguity is not something that conflicts with faith so 
much as a condition which makes faith possible. When 
you are asked for trust you may give it or withhold it; 
it is senseless to say that you will trust if you are given 
demonstrative certainty. There would be no room for 
trust if demonstration were given. When demonstration 
is given what will be left will be simply the sort of rela- 
tion which results from having trusted, or not having 
trusted, before it was given. 

The saying "Blessed are those that have not seen and 
have believed" has nothing to do with our original as- 
sent to the Christian propositions. It was not addressed 
to a philosopher enquiring whether God exists. It was 



ON OBSTINACY IN BELIEF 

addressed to a man who already believed that, who al- 
ready had long acquaintance with a particular Person, 
and evidence that that Person could do very odd things, 
and who then refused to believe one odd thing more, 
often predicted by that Person and vouched for by all 
his closest friends. It is a rebuke not to scepticism in the 
philosophic sense but to the psychological quality of 
being "suspicious." It says in effect, "You should have 
known me better." There are cases between man and 
man where we should all, in our different way, bless 
those who have not seen and have believed. Our rela- 
tion to those who trusted us only after we were proved 
innocent in court cannot be the same as our relation to 
those who trusted us all through. 

Our opponents, then, have a perfect right to dispute 
with us about the grounds of our original assent. But 
they must not accuse us of sheer insanity if, after the as- 
sent has been given, our adherence to it is no longer 
proportioned to every fluctuation of the apparent evi- 
dence. They cannot of course be expected to know on 
what our assurance feeds, and how it revives and is al- 
ways rising from its ashes. They cannot be expected to 
see how the quality of the object which we think we are 
beginning to know by acquaintance drives us to the view 
that if this were a delusion then we should have to say 
that the universe had produced no real thing of compa- 
rable value and that all explanations of the delusion 
seemed somehow less important than the thing ex- 
plained. That is knowledge we cannot communicate. 
But they can see how the assent, of necessity, moves us 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

from the logic of speculative thought into what might 
perhaps be called the logic of personal relations. What 
would, up till then, have been variations simply of opin- 
ion become variations of conduct by a person to a Per- 
son. Credere Deum esse turns into Credere in Deum. 
And Deum here is this God, the increasingly knowable 
Lord. 



3 



THREE - LILIES THAT FESTER 



THE "Cambridge Num- 
ber" of the Twentieth Century (1955) Mr. John Allen 
asked why so many people "go to such lengths to 
prove to us that really they are not intellectuals at all 
and certainly not cultured." I believe I know the an- 
swer. Two parallels may help to ease it into the reader's 
mind. 

We all know those who shudder at the word refine- 
ment as a term of social approval. Sometimes they ex- 
press their dislike of this usage by facetiously spelling it 
refanement; with the implication that it is likely to be 
commonest in the mouths of those whose speech has a 
certain varnished vulgarity. And I suppose we can all 
understand the shudder, whether we approve it or not. 
He who shudders feels that the quality of mind and be- 
haviour which we call refined is nowhere less likely to 
occur than among those who aim at, and talk much 
about, refinement. Those who have this quality are not 
obeying any idea of refinement when they abstain from 
swaggering, spitting, snatching, triumphing, calling 
names, boasting or contradicting. These modes of be- 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

haviour do not occur to them as possibles: if they did, 
that training and sensibility which constitute refinement 
would reject them as disagreeables without reference to 
any ideal of conduct, just as we reject a bad egg without 
reference to its possible effect on our stomachs. Refine- 
ment, in fact, is a name given to certain behaviour from 
without. From within, it does not appear as refinement; 
indeed, it does not appear, does not become an object 
of consciousness, at all. Where it is most named it is 
most absent. 

I produce my next parallel with many different kinds 
of reluctance. But I think it too illuminating to be omit- 
ted. The word religion is extremely rare in the New 
Testament or the writings of mystics. The reason is 
simple. Those attitudes and practises to which we give 
the collective name of religion are themselves con- 
cerned with religion hardly at all. To be religious is to 
have one's attention fixed on God and on one's neigh- 
bour in relation to God, Therefore, almost by defini- 
tion, a religious man, or a man when he is being reli- 
gious, is not thinking about religion; he hasn't the time. 
Religion is what we (or he himself at a later moment) 
call his activity from outside. 

Of course those who disdain the words refinement 
and religion may be doing so from bad motives; they 
may wish to impress us with the idea that they are well- 
bred or holy. Such people are regarding chatter about 
refinement or religion simply as symptomatic of vul- 
garity or worldliness, and eschew the symptom to clear 

3* 



LILIES THAT FESTER 



themselves from the suspicion of the disease. But there 
are others who sincerely and (I believe) rightly think 
that such talk is not merely a symptom of, but a cause 
active in producing, that disease. The talk is inimical 
to the thing talked of, likely to spoil it where it exists 
and to prevent its birth where it is unborn. 

Now culture seems to belong to the same class of dan- 
gerous and embarrassing words. Whatever else it may 
mean, it certainly covers deep and genuine enjoyment 
of literature and the other arts. (By using the word en- 
joyment 1 do not mean to beg the vexed question about 
the role of pleasure in our experience of the arts. I mean 
frui, not delectari; as we speak of a man "enjoy- 
ing" good health or an estate.) Now if I am certain 
of anything in the world, I am certain that while a 
man is, in this sense, enjoying Don Giovanni or the 
Oresteia he is not caring one farthing about culture. 
Culture? the irrelevance of it! For just as to be fat or 
clever means to be fatter or cleverer than most, so to be 
cultured must mean to be more so than most, and thus 
the very word carries the mind at once to comparisons, 
and groupings, and life in society. And what has all that 
to do with the horns that blow as the statue enters, or 
Clytaemnestra crying, "Now you have named me 
aright'? In Howard's End Mr. E. M. Forster excellently 
describes a girl listening to a symphony. She is not 
thinking about culture: nor about "Music"; nor even 
about "this music." She sees the whole world through 
the music. Culture, like religion, is a name given from 

33 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

outside to activities which are not themselves interested 
in culture at all, and would be ruined the moment they 
were. 

I do not mean that we are never to talk of things from 
the outside. But when the things are o high value and 
very easily destroyed, we must talk with great care, and 
perhaps the less we talk the better. To be constantly 
engaged with the idea of culture, and (above all) of 
culture as something enviable, or meritorious, or some- 
thing that confers prestige, seems to me to endanger 
those very "enjoyments" for whose sake we chiefly 
value it. If we encourage others, or ourselves, to hear, 
see, or read great art on the ground that it is a cultured 
thing to do, we call into play precisely those elements 
in us which must be in abeyance before we can enjoy 
art at all. We are calling up the desire for self-improve- 
ment, the desire for distinction, the desire to revolt 
(from one group) and to agree (with another), and a 
dozen busy passions which, whether good or bad in 
themselves, are, in relation to the arts, simply a blind- 
ing and paralysing distraction. 

At this point some may protest that by culture they 
do not mean the "enjoyments" themselves, but the 
whole habit of mind which such experiences, re-acting 
upon one another, and reflected on, build up as a per- 
manent possession. And some will wish to include the 
sensitive and enriching social life which, they think, will 
arise among groups of people who share this habit of 
mind. But this reinterpretation leaves me with the 
same difficulty. I can well imagine a lifetime of such 

34 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

enjoyments leading a man to such a habit of mind, but 
on one condition; namely, that he went to the arts for 
no such purpose. Those who read poetry to improve 
their minds will never improve their minds by reading 
poetry. For the true enjoyments must be spontaneous 
and compulsive and look to no remoter end. The Muses 
will submit to no marriage of convenience. The desir- 
able habit of mind, if it is to come at all, must come as 
a by-product, unsought. The idea of making it one's aim 
suggests that shattering confidence which Goethe made 
to Eckermann: "In all my youthful amours the object 
I had in view was my own ennoblement." To this, I 
presume, most of us would reply that, even if we believe 
a love-affair can ennoble a young man, we feel sure 
that a love-affair undertaken for that purpose would fail 
of its object. Because of course it wouldn't be a love- 
affair at all. 

So much for the individual. But the claims made for 
the "cultured" group raise an embarrassing question. 
What, exactly, is the evidence that culture produces 
among those who share it a sensitive and enriching so- 
cial life? If by "sensitive" we mean "sensitive to real or 
imagined affronts/' a case could be made out. Horace 
noted long ago that "bards are a touchy lot." The lives 
and writings of the Renaissance Humanists and the cor- 
respondence in the most esteemed literary periodicals 
of our own century will show that critics and scholars 
are the same. But sensitive in that meaning cannot be 
combined with enriching. Competitive and resentful 
egoisms can only impoverish social life. The sensitivity 

35 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

that enriches must be of the sort that guards a man from 
wounding others, not of the sort that makes him ready 
to feel wounded himself. Between this sensitivity and 
culture, my own experience does not suggest any causal 
connection. I have often found it among the uncultured. 
Among the cultured I have sometimes found it and 
sometimes not. 

Let us be honest. I claim to be one of the cultured 
myself and have no wish to foul my own nest. Even if 
that claim is disallowed, I have at least lived among 
them and would not denigrate my friends. But we are 
speaking here among ourselves behind closed doors. 
Frankness is best. The real traitor to our order is not 
the man who speaks, within that order, of its faults, but 
the man who flatters our corporate self-complacency. I 
gladly admit that we number among us men and women 
whose modesty, courtesy, fair-mindedness, patience in 
disputation and readiness to see an antagonist's point 
of view, are wholly admirable. I am fortunate to have 
known them. But we must also admit that we show as 
high a percentage as any group whatever of bullies, par- 
anoiacs, and poltroons, of backbiters, exhibitionists, 
mopes, milksops, and world-without-end bores. The 
loutishness that turns every argument into a quarrel is 
really no rarer among us than among the sub-literate; 
the restless inferiority-complex ("stern to inflict" but 
not "stubborn to endure") which bleeds at a touch but 
scratches like a wildcat is almost as common among us 
as among schoolgirls. 

If you doubt this, try an experiment. Take any one 

36 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

of those who vaunt most highly the adjusting, cleans- 
ing, liberating, and civilising effects of culture and ask 
him about other poets, other critics, other scholars, not 
in the mass but one by one and name by name. Nine 
times out of ten he will deny of each what he claimed 
for all. He will certainly produce very few cases in 
which, on his own showing, culture has had its boasted 
results. Sometimes we suspect that he can think of only 
one. The conclusion most naturally to be drawn from 
his remarks is that the praise our order can most 
securely claim is that which Dr. Johnson gave to the 
Irish. "They are an honest people; they never speak 
well of one another." 

It is then (at best) extremely doubtful whether cul- 
ture produces any of those qualities which will enable 
people to associate with one another graciously, loy- 
ally, understandingly, and with permanent delight. 
When Ovid said that it "softened our manners/' he was 
flattering a barbarian king. But even if culture did all 
these things, we could not embrace it for their sake. 
This would be to use consciously and self-consciously, 
as means to extraneous ends, things which must lose all 
their power of conducing to those ends by the very fact 
of being so used. For many modern exponents of cul- 
ture seem to me to be "impudent" in the etymological 
sense; they lack pudor, they have no shyness where men 
ought to be shy. They handle the most precious and 
fragile things with the roughness of an auctioneer and 
talk of our most intensely solitary and fugitive experi- 
ences as if they were selling us a Hoover. It is all really 

37 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

very well summed up in Mr. Allen's phrase in the 
Twentieth Century "the faith in culture/' A "faith in 
culture" is as bad as a faith in religion; both expressions 
imply a turning away from those very things which cul- 
ture and religion are about. "Culture" as a collective 
name for certain very valuable activities is a permissible 
word; but culture hypostatized, set up on its own, made 
into a faith, a cause, a banner, a "platform/' is unendur- 
able. For none of the activities in question cares a straw 
for that faith or cause. It is like a return to early Semitic 
religion where names themselves were regarded as 
powers. 

Now a step further. Mr. Allen complained that, not 
content with creeping out of earshot when we can bear 
the voices of certain culture-mongers no longer, we then 
wantonly consort, or pretend that we consort, with the 
lowest of the low-brows, and affect to share their pleas- 
ures. There are at this point (still p. 127) a good many 
allusions which go over my head. I don't know what 
A F N is, I am not fond of cellars, and modern whisky 
suits neither my purse, my palate, nor my digestion. 
But I think I know the sort of thing he has in mind, and 
I think I can account for it. As before, I will begin with 
a parallel. Suppose you had spent an evening among 
very young and very transparent snobs who were feign- 
ing a discriminating enjoyment of a great port, though 
anyone who knew could see very well that, if they had 
ever drunk port in their lives before, it came from a 
grocer's. And then suppose that on your journey home 
you went into a grubby little tea-shop and there heard 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

an old body in a feather boa say to another old body, 
with a smack of her lips, "That was a nice cup o' tea, 
dearie, that was. Did me good." Would you not, at that 
moment, feel that this was like fresh mountain air? For 
here, at last, would be something real. Here would be a 
mind really concerned about that in which it expressed 
concern. Here would be pleasure, here would be un- 
debauched experience, spontaneous and compulsive, 
from the fountain-head. A live dog is better than a dead 
lion. In the same way, after a certain kind of sherry 
party, where there have been cataracts of culture but 
never one word or one glance that suggested a real en- 
joyment of any art, any person, or any natural object, 
my heart warms to the schoolboy on the bus who is 
reading Fantasy and Science Fiction, rapt and oblivious 
of all the world beside. For here also I should feel that 
I had met something real and live and unfabricated; 
genuine literary experience, spontaneous and compul- 
sive, disinterested. I should have hopes of that boy. 
Those who have greatly cared for any book whatever 
may possibly come to care, some day, for good books. 
The organs of appreciation exist in them. They are not 
impotent. And even if this particular boy is never going 
to like anything severer than science-fiction, even so, 

The child whose love is here, at least doth reap 
One precious gain, that he forgets himself. 

I should still prefer the live dog to the dead lion; per- 
haps, even, the wild dog to the over-tame poodle or 
Peke. 

39 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

I should not have spent so many words on answering 
Mr. Allen's question (neither o us matters sufficiently 
to justify it) unless I thought that the discussion led to 
something of more consequence. This I will now try 
to develop. Mr. Forster feels anxious because he dreads 
Theocracy. Now if he expects to see a Theocracy set up 
in modern England, I myself believe his expectation to 
be wholly chimerical. But I wish to make it very clear 
that, if I thought the thing in the least probable, I 
should feel about it exactly as he does. I fully embrace 
the maxim (which he borrows from a Christian) that 
"all power corrupts/' I would go further. The loftier 
the pretensions of the power, the more meddlesome, 
inhuman, and oppressive it will be. Theocracy is the 
worst of all possible governments. All political power 
is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when its 
sanctions are most modest and commonplace, when it 
claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets 
itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcen- 
dental or spiritual, or even anything very strongly ethi- 
cal, in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to 
meddle with our private lives. Let the shoemaker stick 
to his last. Thus the Renaissance doctrine of Divine 
Right is for me a corruption of monarchy; Rousseau's 
General Will, of democracy; racial mysticisms, of na- 
tionality. And Theocracy, I admit and even insist, is 
the worst corruption of all. But then I don't think we 
are in any danger of it. What I think we are really in 
danger of is something that would be only one degree 
less intolerable, and intolerable in almost the same way. 

40 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

I would call it Charientocracy; not the rule of the saints 
but the rule of the ^apt'orcs, the venustiores, the Hotel 
de Rambouillet, the Wits, the Polite, the "Souls," the 
"Apostles/' the Sensitive, the Cultured, the Integrated, 
or whatever the latest password may be. I will explain 
how I think it could come about. 

The old social classes have broken up. Two results 
follow. On the one hand, since most men, as Aristotle 
observed, do not like to be merely equal with all other 
men, we find all sorts of people building themselves 
into groups within which they can feel superior to the 
mass; little unofficial, self-appointed aristocracies. The 
Cultured increasingly form such a group. Notice their 
tendency to use the social term vulgar of those who dis- 
agree with them. Notice that Mr. Allen spoke of rebels 
against, or deserters from, this group, as denying not 
that they are "intellectual" but that they are "intellec- 
tuals/* not hiding a quality but deprecating inclusion in 
a class. On the other hand, inevitably, there is coming 
into existence a new, real, ruling class: what has been 
called the Managerial Class. The coalescence of these 
two groups, the unofficial, self-appointed aristocracy of 
the Cultured and the actual Managerial rulers, will 
bring us to Charientocracy. 

But the two groups are already coalescing, because 
education is increasingly the means of access to the 
Managerial Class. And of course education, in some 
sense, is a very proper means of access; we do not want 
our rulers to be dunces. But education is coming to have 
a new significance. It aspires to do, and can do, far more 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

to the pupil than education (except, perhaps, that of 
the Jesuits) has ever done before. 

For one thing, the pupil is now far more defenceless 
in the hands of his teachers. He comes increasingly from 
businessmen's flats or workmen's cottages in which there 
are few books or none. He has hardly ever been alone. 
The educational machine seizes him very early and or- 
ganizes his whole life, to the exclusion of all unsuperin- 
tended solitude or leisure. The hours of unsponsored, 
uninspected, perhaps even forbidden, reading, the ram- 
blings, and the "long, long thoughts" in which those of 
luckier generations first discovered literature and na- 
ture and themselves are a thing of the past. If a Tra- 
herne or a Wordsworth were born to-day he would be 
"cured" before he was twelve. In short, the modern pu- 
pil is the ideal patient for those masters who, not con- 
tent with teaching a subject, would create a character; 
helpless Plasticine. Or if by chance (for nature will be 
nature) he should have any powers of resistance, they 
know how to deal with him. I am coming to that point 
in a moment. 

Secondly, the nature of the teaching has changed. In 
a sense it has changed for the better: that is, it de- 
mands far more of the master and, in recompense, 
makes his work more interesting. It has become far 
more intimate and penetrating; more inward* Not con- 
tent with making sure that the pupil has read and re- 
membered the text, it aspires to teach him apprecia- 
tion. It seems harsh to quarrel with what at first sounds 
so reasonable an aim. Yet there is a danger in it, Every- 

42 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

one now laughs at the old test-paper with Its context 
questions and the like, and people ask, "What good can 
that sort of thing do a boy?" But surely to demand that 
the test-paper should do the boy good is like demanding 
that a thermometer should heat a room. It was the read- 
ing of the text which was supposed to do the boy good; 
you set the paper to find out if he had read it. And just 
because the paper did not force the boy to produce, or 
to feign, appreciation, it left him free to develop in pri- 
vate, spontaneously, as an out-of-school activity which 
would never earn any marks, such appreciation as he 
could. That was a private affair between himself and 
Virgil or himself and Shakespeare. Nine times out of 
ten, probably, nothing happened at all. But whenever 
appreciation did occur (and quite certainly it some- 
times did) it was genuine; suited to the boy's age and 
character; no exotic, but the healthy growth of its na- 
tive soil and weather. But when we substitute exercises 
in "practical criticism" for the old, dry papers, a new 
situation arises. The boy will not get good marks 
(which means, in the long run, that he will not get into 
the Managerial Class) unless he produces the kind of 
responses, and the kind of analytic method, which com- 
mend themselves to his teacher. This means at best 
that he is trained to the precocious anticipation of re- 
sponses, and of a method, inappropriate to his years. At 
worst it means that he is trained in the (not very dif- 
ficult) art of simulating the orthodox responses. For 
nearly all boys are good mimics. Depend upon it, before 
you have been teaching for a term, everyone in the form 

43 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

knows pretty well "the sort of stuff that goes down with 
Prickly Pop-eye." In the crude old days they knew that 
what "went down/' and the only thing that "went down" 
was correct answers to factual questions, and there were 
only two ways of producing those: working or cheating. 

The thing would not be so bad if the responses which 
the pupils had to make were even those of the individual 
master. But we have already passed that stage. Some- 
where (I have not yet tracked it down) there must be a 
kind of culture-mongers' central bureau which keeps a 
sharp look-out for deviationists. At least there is cer- 
tainly someone who sends little leaflets to schoolmas- 
ters, printing half a dozen poems on each and telling 
the master not only which the pupils must be made to 
prefer, but exactly on what grounds. (The imperti- 
nence of it! We know what Mulcaster or Boyer would 
have done with those leaflets.) 

Thus to say that, under the nascent regime, educa- 
tion alone will get you into the ruling class, may not 
mean simply that the failure to acquire certain knowl- 
edge and to reach a certain level of intellectual compe- 
tence will exclude you. That would be reasonable 
enough. But it may come to mean, perhaps means al- 
ready, something more. It means that you cannot get 
in without becoming, or without making your masters 
believe that you have become, a very specific kind of 
person, one who makes the right responses to the right 
authors. In fact, you can get in only by becoming, in the 
modern sense of the word, cultured. This situation must 
be distinguished from one that has often occurred be- 

44 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

fore. Nearly all ruling classes, sooner or later, in some 
degree or other, have taken tip culture and patronized 
the arts. But when that happens the culture is the result 
of their position; one of the luxuries or privileges of 
their order. The situation we are now facing will be al- 
most the opposite. Entry into the ruling class will be the 
reward of culture. Thus we reach Charientocracy. 

Not only is the thing likely to happen; it is already 
planned and avowed. Mr, J. W. Saunders has set it all 
out in an excellent article entitled "Poetry in the Man- 
agerial Age" (Essays in Criticism, iv, 3, July 1954). He 
there faces the fact that modern poets are read almost 
exclusively by one another. He looks about for a rem- 
edy. Naturally he does not suggest that the poets should 
do anything about it. For it is taken as basic by all the 
culture of our age that whenever artists and audience 
lose touch, the fault must be wholly on the side of the 
audience. (I have never come across the great work in 
which this important doctrine is proved.) The remedy 
which occurs to Mr. Saunders is that we should provide 
our poets with a conscript audience; a privilege last en- 
joyed, I believe, by Nero. And he tells us how this can 
be done. We get our "co-ordinators" through education; 
success in examinations is the road into the ruling class. 
All that we need do, therefore, is to make not just 
poetry, but "the intellectual discipline which the critical 
reading of poetry can foster/' the backbone of our edu- 
cational system. In other words, practical criticism or 
something of the sort, exercised, no doubt, chiefly on 
modern poets, is to be the indispensable subject, failure 

45 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

in which excludes you from the Managerial Class. And 
so our poets get their conscript readers. Every boy or 
girl who is born is presented with the choice: "Read the 
poets whom we, the cultured, approve, and say the sort 
of things we say about them, or be a prole/' And this 
(picking up a previous point) shows how Charien- 
tocracy can deal with the minority of pupils who have 
tastes of their own and are not pure Plasticine. They get 
low marks. You kick them off the educational ladder at a 
low rung and they disappear into the proletariat. 

Another advantage is that, besides providing poets 
with a conscript audience for the moment, you can 
make sure that the regnant literary dynasty will reign 
almost forever. For the deviationists whom you have 
kicked off the ladder will of course include all those 
troublesome types who, in earlier ages, were apt to start 
new schools and movements. If there had been a sound 
Charientocracy in their day, the young Chaucer, the 
young Donne, the young Wordsworth and Coleridge, 
could have been dealt with. And thus literary history, 
as we have known it in the past, may come to an end. 
Literary man, so long a wild animal, will have become a 
tame one. 

Having explained why I think a Charientocracy prob- 
able, I must conclude by explaining why I think it un- 
desirable. 

Culture is a bad qualification for a ruling class be- 
cause it does not qualify men to rule. The things we 
really need in our rulers mercy, financial integrity, 
practical intelligence, hard work, and the like are no 

46 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

more likely to be found in cultured persons than in any- 
one else. 

Culture is a bad qualification in the same way as 
sanctity. Both are hard to diagnose and easy to feign. Of 
course not every charientocrat will be a cultural hypo- 
crite nor every theocrat a Tartuffe. But both systems 
encourage hypocrisy and make the disinterested pur- 
suit of the quality they profess to value more difficult. 

But hypocrisy is not the only evil they encourage. 
There are, as in piety, so in culture, states which, if less 
culpable, are no less disastrous. In the one we have the 
"Goody-goody"; the docile youth who has neither re- 
volted against nor risen above the routine pietisms and 
respectabilities of his home. His conformity has won 
the approval of his parents, his influential neighbours, 
and his own conscience. He does not know that he has 
missed anything and is content. In the other, we have 
the adaptable youth to whom poetry has always been 
something "Set" for "evaluation." Success in this exer- 
cise has given him pleasure and let him into the ruling 
class. He does not know what he has missed, does not 
know that poetry ever had any other purpose, and is 
content. 

Both types are much to be pitied: but both can some- 
times be very nasty. Both may exhibit spiritual pride, 
but each in its proper form, since the one has succeeded 
by acquiescence and repression, but the other by re- 
peated victory in competitive performances. To the 
pride of the one, sly, simpering, and demure, we might 
apply Mr. Allen's word "smug" (especially if we let in 

47 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

a little of its older sense). My epithet for the other 
would, I think, be "swaggering/ 7 It tends in my expe- 
rience to be raw, truculent, eager to give pain, insatiable 
in its demands for submission, resentful and suspicious 
of disagreement. Where the goody-goody slinks and 
sidles and purrs (and sometimes scratches) like a cat, 
his opposite number in the ranks of the cultured gob- 
bles like an enraged turkey. And perhaps both types are 
less curable than the hypocrite proper. A hypocrite 
might (conceivably) repent and mend; or he might be 
unmasked and rendered innocuous. But who could 
bring to repentence, and who can unmask, those who 
were attempting no deception? who don't know that 
they are not the real thing because they don't know 
that there ever was a real thing? 

Lastly I reach the point where my objections to 
Theocracy and to Charientocracy are almost identical. 
"Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." The 
higher the pretensions of our rulers are, the more med- 
dlesome and impertinent their rule is likely to be 
and the more the thing in whose name they rule will be 
defiled. The highest things have the most precarious 
foothold in our nature. By making sanctity or culture a 
may en de parvenir you help to drive them out of the 
world. Let our masters leave these two, at least, alone; 
leave us some region where the spontaneous, the un- 
marketable, the utterly private, can still exist. 

As far as I am concerned, Mr. Allen fell short of the 
mark when he spoke of a "retreat from the faith in cul- 
ture/' I don't want retreat; I want attack or, if you 

48 



LILIES THAT FESTER 

prefer the word, rebellion. I write in the hope of rous- 
ing others to rebel. So far as I can see, the question has 
nothing to do with the difference between Christians 
and those who (unfortunately, since the word has long 
borne a useful, and wholly different, meaning) have 
been called "humanists." I hope that red herring will 
not be brought in. I would gladly believe that many 
atheists and agnostics care for the things I care for. It is 
for them I have written. To them I say: the "faith in 
culture" is going to strangle all those things unless we 
can strangle it first. And there is no time to spare. 



49 



FOUR 
SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

(The scene is in Hell at the annual dinner of the 
Tempters' Training College for young Devils. The 
Principal , Dr. Slubgob, has just proposed the health of 
the guests. Screw tape, a very experienced Devil, who is 
the guest of honour, rises to reply:) 



M 



. R. PRINCIPAL, your Immi- 
nence, your Disgraces, my Thorns, Shadies, and Gentle- 
devils: 

It is customary on these occasions for the speaker to 
address himself chiefly to those among you who have 
just graduated and who will very soon be posted to offi- 
cial Tempterships on Earth. It is a custom I willingly 
obey. I will remember with what trepidation I awaited 
my own first appointment. I hope, and believe, that each 
one of you has the same uneasiness tonight. Your career 
is before you. Hell expects and demands that it should 
be as Mine was one of unbroken success. If it is not, 
you know what awaits you. 

I have no wish to reduce the wholesome and realistic 
element of terror, the unremitting anxiety, which must 

5* 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

act as the lash and spur to your endeavors. How often 
you will envy the humans their faculty of sleep! Yet at 
the same time I would wish to put before you a moder- 
ately encouraging view of the strategical situation as a 
whole. 

Your dreaded Principal has included in a speech full 
of points something like an apology for the banquet 
which he has set before us. Well, gentledevils, no one 
blames him. But it would be vain to deny that the hu- 
man souls on whose anguish we have been feasting to- 
night were of pretty poor quality. Not all the most skil- 
ful cookery of our tormentors could make them better 
than insipid. 

Oh to get one's teeth again into a Farinata, a Henry 
VIII, or even a Hitler! There was real crackling there; 
something to crunch; a rage, an egotism, a cruelty only 
just less robust than our own. It put up a delicious re- 
sistance to being devoured. It warmed your inwards 
when you'd got it down. 

Instead of this, what have we had tonight? There was 
a municipal authority with Graft sauce. But personally 
I could not detect in him the flavour of a really passion- 
ate and brutal avarice such as delighted one in the great 
tycoons of the last century. Was he not unmistakably a 
Little Man a creature of the petty rake-off pocketed 
with a petty joke in private and denied with the stalest 
platitudes in his public utterances a grubby little non- 
entity who had drifted into corruption, only just 
realizing that he was corrupt, and chiefly because every- 
one else did it? Then there was the lukewarm Casserole 

5* 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

of Adulterers. Could you find it in any trace of a fully 
inflamed, defiant, rebellious, insatiable lust? I couldn't. 
They all tasted to me like undersexed morons who had 
blundered or trickled into the wrong beds in auto- 
matic response to sexy advertisements, or to make them- 
selves feel modern and emancipated, or to reassure 
themselves about their virility or their "normalcy," or 
even because they had nothing else to do. Frankly, to 
me who have tasted Messalina and Casanova, they 
were nauseating. The Trade Unionist stuffed with 
sedition was perhaps a shade better. He had done some 
real harm. He had, not quite unknowingly, worked for 
bloodshed, famine, and the extinction of liberty. Yes, 
in a way. But what a way! He thought of those ultimate 
objectives so little. Toeing the party line, self-impor- 
tance, and above all mere routine, were what really 
dominated his life, 

But now comes the point. Gastronomically, all this is 
deplorable. But I hope none of us puts gastronomy first. 
Is it not, in another and far more serious way, full of 
hope and promise? 

Consider, first, the mere quantity. The quality may 
be wretched; but we never had souls (of a sort) in more 
abundance. 

And then the triumph. We are tempted to say that 
such souls or such residual puddles of what once was 
soul are hardly worth damning. Yes, but the Enemy 
(for whatever inscrutable and perverse reason) 
thought them worth trying to save. Believe me, He did. 
You youngsters who have not yet been on active serv- 

53 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

ice have no idea with what labour, with what delicate 
skill, each of these miserable creatures was finally cap- 
tured. 

The difficulty lay in their very smallness and flabbi- 
ness. Here were vermin so muddled in mind, so passively 
responsive to environment, that it was very hard to raise 
them to that level of clarity and deliberateness at which 
mortal sin becomes possible. To raise them just enough; 
but not that fatal millimetre of "too much." For then of 
course all would possibly have been lost. They might 
have seen; they might have repented. On the other 
hand, if they had been raised too little, they would very 
possibly have qualified for Limbo, as creatures suitable 
neither for Heaven nor for Hell; things that, having 
failed to make the grade, are allowed to sink into a more 
or less contented sub-humanity forever. 

In each individual choice of what the Enemy would 
call the "wrong" turning such creatures are at first 
hardly, if at all, in a state of full spiritual responsibility. 
They do not understand either the source or the real 
character of the prohibitions they are breaking. Their 
consciousness hardly exists apart from the social atmos- 
phere that surrounds them. And of course we have con- 
trived that their very language should be all smudge 
and blur; what would be a bribe in someone else's pro- 
fession is a tip or a present in theirs. The job of their 
Tempters was first, of course, to harden these choices of 
the Hell-ward roads into a habit by steady repetition. 
But then (and this was all-important) to turn the habit 
into a principle a principle the creature is prepared to 

54 



SGREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

defend. After that, all will go well. Conformity to the 
social environment, at first merely instinctive or even 
mechanical how should a jelly not conform? now be- 
comes an unacknowledged creed or ideal of Together- 
ness or Being like Folks. Mere ignorance of the law they 
break now turns into a vague theory about it remem- 
ber they know no history a theory expressed by call- 
ing it conventional or puritan or bourgeois "morality." 
Thus gradually there comes to exist at the centre of the 
creature a hard, tight, settled core of resolution to go on 
being what it is, and even to resist moods that might 
tend to alter it. It is a very small core; not at all reflec- 
tive (they are too ignorant) nor defiant (their emo- 
tional and imaginative poverty excludes that) ; al- 
most, in its own way, prim and demure; like a pebble, 
or a very young cancer. But it will serve our turn. Here 
at last is a real and deliberate, though not fully articu- 
late, rejection of what the Enemy calls Grace. 

These, then, are two welcome phenomena. First, the 
abundance of our captures; however tasteless our fare, 
we are in no danger of famine. And secondly, the tri- 
umph; the skill of our Tempters has never stood higher. 
But the third moral, which I have not yet drawn, is the 
most important of all. 

The sort of souls on whose despair and ruin we have 
well, I won't say feasted, but at any rate subsisted 
tonight are increasing in numbers and will continue to 
increase. Our advices from Lower Command assure us 
that this is so; our directives warn us to orient all our 
tactics in view of this situation. The "great" sinners, 

55 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

those in whom vivid and genial passions have been 
pushed beyond the bounds and in whom an immense 
concentration of will has been devoted to objects which 
the Enemy abhors, will not disappear. But they will 
grow rarer. Our catches will be ever more numerous; 
but they will consist increasingly of trash trash which 
we should once have thrown to Cerberus and the hell- 
hounds as unfit for diabolical consumption. And there 
are two things I want you to understand about this. 
First, that however depressing it may seem, it is really a 
change for the better. And secondly, I would draw your 
attention to the means by which It has been brought 
about. 

It is a change for the better. The great (and tooth- 
some) sinners are made out of the very same material 
as those horrible phenomena, the great Saints. The vir- 
tual disappearance of such material may mean insipid 
meals for us. But is it not utter frustration and famine 
for the Enemy? He did not create the humans He did 
not become one of them and die among them by torture 
in order to produce candidates for Limbo; "failed" 
humans. He wanted to make Saints; gods; things like 
Himself. Is the dullness of your present fare not a very 
small price to pay for the delicious knowledge that His 
whole great experiment is petering out? But not only 
that. As the great sinners grow fewer, and the majority 
lose all individuality, the great sinners become far more 
effective agents for us. Every dictator or even dem- 
agogue almost every film-star or crooner can now 
draw tens of thousands of the human sheep with him. 

56 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

They give themselves (what there is of them) to him; in 
him, to us. There may come a time when we shall have 
no need to bother about individual temptation at all, 
except for the few. Catch the bell-wether and his whole 
flock comes after him. 

But do you realize how we have succeeded in reduc- 
ing so many of the human race to the level of ciphers? 
This has not come about by accident. It has been our an- 
swer and a magnificent answer it is to one of the most 
serious challenges we ever had to face. 

Let me recall to your minds what the human situation 
was in the latter half of the nineteenth century the 
period at which I ceased to be a practising Tempter 
and was rewarded with an administrative post. 
The great movement towards liberty and equality 
among men had by then borne solid fruits and grown 
mature. Slavery had been abolished. The American War 
of Independence had been won. The French Revolu- 
tion had succeeded. Religious toleration was almost 
everywhere on the increase. In that movement there 
had originally been many elements which were in our 
favour. Much Atheism, much Anti-Clericalism, much 
envy and thirst for revenge, even some (rather absurd) 
attempts to revive Paganism, were mixed in it. It was 
not easy to determine what our own attitude should be. 
On the one hand it was a bitter blow to us it still is 
that any sort of men who had been hungry should be 
fed or any who had long worn chains should have them 
struck off. But on the other hand, there was in the move- 
ment so much rejection of faith, so much materialism, 

57 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

secularism, and hatred, that we felt we were bound to 
encourage it. 

But by the latter part of the century the situation 
was much simpler, and also much more ominous. In the 
English sector (where I saw most of my front-line serv- 
ice) a horrible thing had happened. The Enemy, with 
His usual sleight of hand, had largely appropriated this 
progressive or liberalizing movement and perverted it 
to His own ends. Very little of its old anti-Christianity 
remained. The dangerous phenomenon called Christian 
Socialism was rampant. Factory owners of the good old 
type who grew rich on sweated labour, instead of being 
assassinated by their workpeople we could have used 
that were being frowned upon by their own class. The 
rich were increasingly giving up their powers not in the 
face of revolution and compulsion, but in obedience to 
their own consciences. As for the poor who benefited 
by this, they were behaving in a most disappointing 
fashion. Instead of using their new liberties as we rea- 
sonably hoped and expected for massacre, rape, and 
looting, or even for perpetual intoxication, they were 
perversely engaged in becoming cleaner, more or- 
derly, more thrifty, better educated, and even more 
virtuous. Believe me, gentledevils, the threat of some- 
thing like a really healthy state of society seemed then 
perfectly serious. 

Thanks to our Father Below the threat was averted. 
Our counter-attack was on two levels. On the deepest 
level our leaders contrived to call into full life an ele- 
ment which had been implicit in the movement from 

58 



SGREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

its earliest days. Hidden in the heart of this striving 
for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal 
freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed 
it. In his perfect democracy, you remember, only the 
state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the 
individual is told that he has really willed (though he 
didn't know it) whatever the Government tells him to 
do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indis- 
pensable propagandist on our side) we easily contrived 
both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in Eng- 
land we were pretty successful. I heard the other day 
that in that country a man could not, without a permit, 
cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into 
planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a 
tool-shed in his own garden. 4 

Such was our counter-attack on one level. You, who 
are mere beginners, will not be entrusted with work of 
that kind. You will be attached as Tempters to private 
persons. Against them, or through them, our counter-at- 
tack takes a different form. 

Democracy is the word with which you must lead 
them by the nose. The good work which our philologi- 
cal experts have already done in the corruption of hu- 
man language makes it unnecessary to warn you that 
they should never be allowed to give this word a clear 
and definable meaning. They won't. It will never oc- 
cur to them that Democracy is properly the name of a 
political system, even a system of voting, and that this 
has only the most remote and tenuous connection with 
what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they 

59 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether 
"democratic behaviour" means the behaviour that de- 
mocracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a de- 
mocracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to 
them that these need not be the same. 

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; i 
you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they 
venerate. And of course it is connected with the politi- 
cal ideal that men should be equally treated. You then 
make a stealthy transition in their minds from this po- 
litical ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Es- 
pecially the man you are working on. As a result you can 
use the word Democracy to sanction in his thought the 
most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of all hu- 
man feelings. You can get him to practise, not only 
without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, 
conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would 
be universally derided. 

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a 
man to say I'm as good as you. 

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus 
induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, 
solid resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his state- 
ment is false in fact, that he is no more equal to every- 
one he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than 
in height or waist-measurement. I mean that he does 
not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as 
you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. 
Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar 
to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor 

60 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, 
outside the strictly political field, is made only by those 
who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it 
expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing 
awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to 
accept. 

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents 
every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes 
its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere dif- 
ference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be 
different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recre- 
ations, choice of food. "Here is someone who speaks 
English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I 
it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here's 
a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs thinks him- 
self .too good for them no doubt. Here's a man who 
hasn't turned on the jukebox he's one of those goddam 
highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were hon- 
est-to-God all right Joes they'd be like me. They've no 
business to be different. It's undemocratic." 

Now this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means 
new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to the 
humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they al- 
ways regarded it as the most odious, and also the most 
comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt 
it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in 
others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is 
that you can sanction it make it respectable and even 
laudable by the incantatory use of the word demo- 
cratic. 

61 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

Under the influence of this incantation those who are 
in any or every way inferior can labour more whole- 
heartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down 
everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. 
Under the same influence, those who come, or could 
come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back 
from it for fear of being undemocratic. I am credibly in- 
formed that young humans now sometimes suppress an 
incipient taste for classical music or good literature be- 
cause it might prevent their Being Like Folks; that peo- 
ple who would really wish to be and are offered the 
Grace which would enable them to be honest, chaste, 
or temperate, refuse it. To accept might make them 
Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take 
them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration 
with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) be- 
come individuals. 

All is summed up in the prayer which a young female 
human is said to have uttered recently: "Oh God, 
make me a normal twentieth-century girl!" Thanks to 
our labours, this will mean increasingly, "Make me a 
minx, a moron, and a parasite." 

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few 
(fewer every day) who will not be made Normal and 
Regular and Like Folks and Integrated, increasingly 
tend to become in reality the prigs and cranks which 
the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. 
For suspicion often creates what it suspects. ("Since, 
whatever 1 do, the neighbours are going to think me a 
witch, or a Communist agent, I might as well be hanged 

62 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

for a sheep as a lamb and become one in reality/') As a 
result we now have an intelligentsia which, though 
very small, is very useful to the cause of HelL 

But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix 
your attention on is the vast, over-all movement towards 
the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every 
kind of human excellence moral, cultural, social, or 
intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how De- 
mocracy (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us 
the work that was once done by the most ancient Dicta- 
torships, and by the same methods? You remember how 
one of the Greek Dictators (they called them "tyrants" 
then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his ad- 
vice about the principles of government. The second 
Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there 
he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that 
rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral 
was plain. Allow no pre-eminence among your sub- 
jects. Let no man live who is wiser, or better, or more 
famous, or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all 
down to a level; all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All 
equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, "de- 
mocracy." But now "democracy" can do the same work 
without any other tyranny than her own. No one need 
now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks 
will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. 
The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their 
desire to Be Like Stalks, 

I have said that to secure the damnation of these little 
souls, these creatures that have almost ceased to be 

63 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

individual, is a laborious and tricky work. But if proper 
pains and skill are expended, you can be fairly confident 
of the result. The great sinners seem easier to catch. 
But then they are incalculable. After you have played 
them for seventy years, the Enemy may snatch them 
from your claws in the seventy-first. They are capable, 
you see, of real repentance. They are conscious of real 
guilt. They are, if things take the wrong turn, as ready 
to defy the social pressures around them for the Enemy's 
sake as they were to defy them for ours. It is in some 
ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive 
wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But 
the elephant is more troublesome if you miss. 

My own experience, as I have said, was mainly on 
the English sector, and I still get more news from it than 
from any other. It may be that what I am now going to 
say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some 
of you may be operating. But you can make the neces- 
sary adjustments when you get there. Some application 
it will almost certainly have. If it has too little, you must 
labour to make the country you are dealing with more 
like what England already is. 

In that promising land the spirit of Tm as good as you 
has already become something more than a generally 
social influence. It begins to work itself into their edu- 
cational system. How far its operations there have gone 
at the present moment, I would not like to say with 
certainty. Nor does it matter. Once you have grasped 
the tendency, you can easily predict its future develop- 
ments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

the developing. The basic principle of the new educa- 
tion is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to 
feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That 
would be "undemocratic/' These differences between 
the pupils for they are obviously and nakedly individ- 
ual differences must be disguised. This can be done 
on various levels. At universities, examinations must 
be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. 
Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or 
nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they 
have any power (or wish) to profit by higher educa- 
tion or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid 
or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elemen- 
tary science can be set to doing the things that children 
used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, 
make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time 
there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to 
the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they 
are engaged in must have I believe the English already 
use the phrase "parity of esteem/* An even more dras- 
tic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to 
proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, 
because the others would get a trauma Beelzebub, 
what a useful word! by being left behind. The bright 
pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own 
age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who 
would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits 
listening to his coaeval's attempts to spell out A CAT SAT 

ON A MA3X 

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the vir- 

65 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

tual abolition of education when Tm as good as you has 
fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties 
for not learning will vanish. The few who might want 
to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop 
their fellows? And anyway the teachers or should I 
say, nurses? will be far too busy reassuring the dunces 
and patting them on the back to waste any time on real 
teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to 
spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance 
among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for 
us. 

Of course this would not follow unless all education 
became state education. But it will. That is part of 
the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that pur- 
pose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who 
were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in 
order to have their children privately educated. The 
removal of this class, besides linking up with the aboli- 
tion of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of 
the spirit that says I'm as good as you. This was, after all, 
the social group which gave to the humans the over- 
whelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philos- 
ophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, 
jurists, and administrators. If ever there was a bunch 
of tall stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was 
surely they. As an English politician remarked not long 
ago, "A democracy does not want great men/' 

It would be idle to ask of such a creature whether by 
want it meant "need" or "like." But you had bet- 

66 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

ter be clear. For here Aristotle's question comes up 
again. 

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of 
Democracy in the strict sense of that word; the political 
arrangement so called. Like all forms of government it 
often works to our advantage; but on the whole less 
often than other forms. And what we must realize is 
that "democracy" in the diabolical sense (I'm as good as 
you, Being like Folks, Togetherness) is the finest instru- 
ment we could possibly have for extirpating political 
Democracies from the face of the earth. 

For "democracy*' or the "democratic spirit*' (diaboli- 
cal sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation 
mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which 
flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or 
whimper at the first hint of criticism. And that is what 
Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when 
such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children 
have been made to work at school, where talent is 
placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are 
allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result 
is possible. 

The Democracies were surprised lately when they 
found that Russia had got ahead of them in science. 
What a delicious specimen of human blindness! If the 
whole tendency of their society is opposed to every sort 
of excellence, why did they expect their scientists to 
excel? 

It is our function to encourage the behaviour, 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

the manners, the whole attitude of mind, which de~ 
mocracies naturally like and enjoy, because these are 
the very things which, if unchecked, will destroy de- 
mocracy. You would almost wonder that even humans 
don't see it themselves. Even if they don't read Aristotle 
(that would be undemocratic) you would have thought 
the French Revolution would have taught them that the 
behaviour aristocrats naturally like is not the behaviour 
that preserves aristocracy. They might then have ap- 
plied the same principle to all forms of government. 

But I would not end on that note. I would not Hell 
forbid! encourage in your own minds that delusion 
which you must carefully foster in the minds of your 
human victims. I mean the delusion that the fate of na- 
tions is in itself more important than that of individual 
souls. The overthrow of free peoples and the multipli- 
cation of slave-states are for us a means (besides, of 
course, being fun); but the real end is the destruction 
of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or 
damned, can become sons of the Enemy or food for us. 
The ultimate value, for us, of any revolution, war, or 
famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, 
rage, and despair which it may produce. I'm as good as 
you is a useful means for the destruction of democratic 
societies. But it has a far deeper value as an end in itself, 
as a state of mind which, necessarily excluding humil- 
ity, charity, contentment, and all the pleasures of grati- 
tude or admiration, turns a human being away from 
almost every road which might finally lead him to 
Heaven. 

68 



SCREWTAPE PROPOSES A TOAST 

But now for the pleasantest part of my duty. It falls 
to my lot to propose on behalf of the guests the health 
of Principal Slubgob and the Tempters' Training Col- 
lege. Fill your glasses. What is this I see? What is this 
delicious bouquet I inhale? Can it be? Mr. Principal, I 
unsay all my hard words about the dinner. I see, and 
smell, that even under wartime conditions the College 
cellar still has a few dozen of sound old vintage Pharisee. 
Well, well, well. This is like old times. Hold it beneath 
your nostrils for a moment, gentledevils. Hold it up to 
the light. Look at those fiery streaks that writhe and 
tangle in its dark heart, as if they were contending. And 
so they are. You know how this wine is blended? Differ- 
ent types of Pharisee have been harvested, trodden, and 
fermented together to produce its subtle flavour. Types 
that were most antagonistic to one another on Earth. 
Some were all rules and relics and rosaries; others were 
all drab clothes, long faces, and petty traditional 
abstinences from wine or cards or the theatre. Both 
had in common their self-righteousness and the almost 
infinite distance between their actual outlook and any- 
thing the Enemy really is or commands. The wickedness 
of other religions was the really live doctrine in the re- 
ligion of each; slander was its gospel and denigration its 
litany. How they hated each other up there where the 
sun shone! How much more they hate each other now 
that they are forever conjoined but not reconciled. 
Their astonishment, their resentment, at the combina- 
tion, the festering of their eternally impenitent spite, 
passing into our spiritual digestion, will work like fire. 

69 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

Dark fire. All said and done, my friends, it will be an ill 
day for us if what most humans mean by "religion" 
ever vanishes from the Earth. It can still send us the 
truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can 
grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy. No- 
where do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps 
of the altar. 

Your Imminence, your Disgraces, my Thorns, 
Shadies, and Gentledevils: I give you the toast of Prin- 
cipal Slubgob and the College! 



70 



FIVE 
GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 



G, 



"OOD WORKS'* in the 
plural is an egression much more familiar to modern 
Christendom than "good work." Good works are chiefly 
alms-giving or "helping" in the parish. They are quite 
separate from one's "work." And good works need not 
be good work, as anyone can see by inspecting some of 
the objects made to be sold at bazaars for charitable 
purposes. This is not according to our example. When 
our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra 
glass of wine all round, he was doing good works. But 
also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking. Nor 
is the neglect of goodness in our "work," our job, ac- 
cording to precept. The apostle says every one must not 
only work but work to produce what is "good." 

The idea of Good Work is not quite extinct among 
us, though it is not, I fear, especially characteristic of 
religious people. I have found it among cabinet-makers, 
cobblers, and sailors. It is no use at all trying to im- 
press sailors with a new liner because she is the biggest 
or costliest ship afloat. They look for what they call her 
"lines": they predict how she will behave in a heavy 

7* 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

sea. Artists also talk of Good Work; but decreasingly. 
They begin to prefer words like ' 'significant/' "impor- 
tant/' "contemporary," or "daring." These are not, to 
my mind, good symptoms. 

But the great mass of men in all fully industrialized 
societies are the victims of a situation which almost 
excludes the idea of Good Work from the outset. "Built- 
in obsolescence" becomes an economic necessity. Un- 
less an article is so made that it will go to pieces in a year 
or two and thus have to be replaced, you will not get a 
sufficient turnover. A hundred years ago, when a man 
got married, he had built for him (if he were rich 
enough) a carriage in which he expected to drive for 
the rest of his life. He now buys a car which he expects 
to sell again in two years. Work nowadays must not be 
good. 

For the wearer, zip fasteners have this advantage 
over buttons: that, while they last, they will save 
him an infinitesimal amount of time and trouble. For 
the producer, they have a much more solid merit; they 
don't remain in working order long. Bad work is the 
desideratum. 

We must avoid taking a glibly moral view of this 
situation. It is not solely the result of original or actual 
sin. It has stolen upon us, unforeseen and unintended. 
The degraded commercialism of our minds is quite as 
much its result as its cause. Nor can it, in my opinion, 
be cured by purely moral efforts. 

Originally things are made for use, or delight, or 
(more often) for both. The savage hunter makes him- 

72 



GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 

self a weapon of flint or bone; makes it as well as he can, 
for if it is blunt or brittle he will kill no meat. 
His woman makes a clay pot to fetch water in; again as 
well as she can, for she will have to use it. But they do 
not for long (if at all) abstain from decorating these 
things; they want to have (like Dogberry) "everything 
handsome about them/' And while they work, we may 
be sure they sing or whistle or at least hum. They may 
tell stories too. 

Into this situation, unobtrusive as Eden's snake and 
at first as innocent as that snake once was, there must 
sooner or later come a change. Each family no longer 
makes all it needs. There is a specialist, a potter mak- 
ing pots for the whole village; a smith making weap- 
ons for all; a bard (poet and musician in one) singing 
and story-telling for all. It is significant that in Homer 
the smith of the gods is lame, and the poet among men is 
blind. That may be how the thing began. The defec- 
tives, who are no use as hunters or warriors, may be set 
aside to provide both necessaries and recreation for 
those who are. 

The importance of this change is that we now have 
people making things (pots, swords, lays) not for their 
own use and delight but for the use and delight of 
others. And of course they must, in some way or other, 
be rewarded for doing it. The change is necessary un- 
less society and arts are to remain in a state not of para- 
disal, but of feeble, blundering, and impoverishing 
simplicity. It is kept healthy by two facts. First, these 
specialists will do their work as well as they can. They 

73 



THE WORJLD S LAST NIGHT 

are right up against the people who are going to use it. 
You'll have all the women in the village after you if you 
make bad pots. You'll be shouted down if you sing a dull 
lay. If you make bad swords, then at best the warriors 
will come back and thrash you; at worst, they won't 
come back at all, for the enemy will have killed them, 
and your village will be burned and you yourself en- 
slaved or knocked on the head. And secondly, because 
the specialists are doing as well as they can something 
that is indisputably worth doing, they will delight in 
their work. We must not idealise. It will not all be de- 
light. The smith may be overworked. The bard may be 
frustrated when the village insists on hearing his last 
lay over again (or a new one exactly like it) while he is 
longing to get a hearing for some wonderful innovation. 
But, by and large, the specialists have a life fit for a man; 
usefulness, a reasonable amount of honour, and the joy 
of exercising skill. 

I lack space and, of course, knowledge, to trace the 
whole process from this state of affairs to that in which 
we are living to-day. But I think we can now disengage 
the essence of the change. Granted the departure from 
the primitive condition in which every one makes things 
for himself, and granted, therefore, a condition in which 
many work for others (who will pay them) , there are 
still two sorts of job. Of one sort, a man can truly say, "I 
am doing work which is worth doing. It would still be 
worth doing if nobody paid for it. But as I have no pri- 
vate means, and need to be fed and housed and clothed, 
I must be paid while I do it/' The other kind of job is 

74 



GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 

that in which people do work whose sole purpose is the 
earning of money; work which need not be, ought not 
to be, or would not be, done by anyone in the whole 
world unless it were paid. 

We may thank God there are still plenty of jobs in 
the first category. The agricultural labourer, the police- 
man, the doctor, the artist, the teacher, the priest, and 
many others, are doing what is worth doing in itself; 
what quite a number of people would do, and do, with- 
out pay; what every family would attempt to do for it- 
self, in some amateurish fashion, if it lived in primitive 
isolation. Of course jobs of this kind need not be agree- 
able. Ministering to a leper settlement is one of them. 

The opposite extreme may be represented by two 
examples. I do not necessarily equate them morally, 
but they are alike by our present classification. One is 
the work of the professional prostitute. The peculiar 
horror of her work if you say we should not call it 
work, think again the thing that makes it so much 
more horrible than ordinary fornication, is that it is an 
extreme example of an activity which has no possible 
end in view except money. You cannot go further in 
that direction than sexual intercourse, not only with- 
out marriage, not only without love, but even without 
lust. My other example is this. 1 often see a hoarding 
which bears a notice to the effect that thousands look at 
this space and your firm ought to hire it for an advertise- 
ment of its wares. Consider by how many stages this is 
separated from "making that which is good/* A carpen- 
ter has made this hoarding; that, in itself, has no use. 

75 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

Printers and paper-makers have worked to produce 
the notice worthless until someone hires the space 
worthless to him until he pastes on it another notice, 
still worthless to him unless it persuades someone else 
to buy his goods; which themselves may well be ugly, 
useless, and pernicious luxuries that no mortal would 
have bought unless the advertisement, by its sexy or 
snobbish incantations, had conjured up in him a facti- 
tious desire for them. At every stage of the process, work 
is being done whose sole value lies in the money 
it brings. 

Such would seem to be the inevitable result of a so- 
ciety which depends predominantly on buying and 
selling. In a rational world, things would be made be- 
cause they were wanted; in the actual world, wants 
have to be created in order that people may receive 
money for making the things. That is why the distrust 
or contempt of trade which we find in earlier societies 
should not be too hastily set down as mere snobbery. 
The more important trade is, the more people are con- 
demned to and, worse still, learn to prefer what 
we have called the second kind of job. Work worth do- 
ing apart from its pay, enjoyable work, and good work 
become the privilege of a fortunate minority. The com- 
petitive search for customers dominates international 
situations. 

Within my lifetime in England money was (very 
properly) collected to buy shirts for some men who 
were out of work. The work they were out of was the 
manufacture of shirts. 

76 



GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 

That such a state of affairs cannot be permanent is 
easily foreseen. But unfortunately it is most likely to 
perish by its own internal contradictions in a manner 
which will cause immense suffering. It can be ended 
painlessly only if we find some way of ending it volun- 
tarily; and needless to say I have no plan for doing that, 
and none of our masters the Big Men behind govern- 
ment and industry would take any notice if I had. 
The only hopeful sign at the moment is the "space-race" 
between America and Russia. Since we have got our- 
selves into a state where the main problem is not to pro- 
vide people with what they need or like, but to keep 
people making things (it hardly matters what) , great 
powers could not easily be better employed than in fab- 
ricating costly objects which they then fling overboard. 
It keeps money circulating and factories working, and 
it won't do space much harm or not for a long time. 
But the relief is partial and temporary. The main 
practical task for most of us is not to give the Big Men 
advice about how to end our fatal economy we have 
none to give and they wouldn't listen but to consider 
how we can live within it as little hurt and degraded as 
possible. 

It is something even to recognize that it is fatal and 
insane. Just as the Christian has a great advantage over 
other men, not by being less fallen than they nor less 
doomed to live in a fallen world, but by knowing that 
he is a fallen man in a fallen world; so we shall do bet- 
ter if we remember at every moment what Good Work 
was and how impossible it has now become for the ma- 

77 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

jority. We may have to earn our living by taking part in 
the production of objects which are rotten in quality and 
which, even if they were good in quality, would not be 
worth producing the demand or "market" for them 
having been simply engineered by advertisement. Be- 
side the waters of Babylon or the assembly belt 
we shall still say inwardly, "It I forget thee, O Jerusa- 
lem, may my right hand forget its cunning/' (It will.) 

And of course we shall keep our eyes skinned for any 
chance of escape. If we have any "choice of a career" 
(but has one man in a thousand any such thing?) we 
shall be after the sane jobs like greyhounds and stick 
there like limpets. We shall try, if we get the chance, to 
earn our living by doing well what would be worth do- 
ing even if we had not our living to earn. A consider- 
able mortification of our avarice may be necessary. It is 
usually the insane jobs that lead to big money; they are 
often also the least laborious. 

But beyond all this there is something subtler. We 
must take great care to preserve our habits of mind from 
infection by those which the situation has bred. Such an 
infection has, in my opinion, deeply corrupted our 
artists. 

Until quite recently until the latter part of the last 
century it was taken for granted that the business of 
the artist was to delight and instruct his public. There 
were, of course, different publics; the street-songs and 
the oratorios were not addressed to the same audience 
(though I think a good many people liked both). And 



GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 

an artist might lead his public on to appreciate finer 
things than they had wanted at first; but he could do 
this only by being, from the first, if not merely enter- 
taining, yet entertaining, and if not completely intelli- 
gible, yet very largely intelligible. All this has changed. 
In the highest aesthetic circles one now hears nothing 
about the artist's duty to us. It is all about our duty to 
him. He owes us nothing; we owe him "recognition/* 
even though he has never paid the slightest attention to 
our tastes, interests, or habits. If we don't give it to him, 
our name is mud. In this shop, the customer is always 
wrong. 

But this change is surely part of our changed attitude 
to all work. As "giving employment" becomes more 
important than making things men need or like, there 
is a tendency to regard every trade as something that 
exists chiefly for the sake of those who practise it. The 
smith does not work in order that the warriors may 
fight; the warriors exist and fight in order that the smith 
may be kept busy. The bard does not exist in order to 
delight the tribe; the tribe exists in order to appreciate 
the bard. 

In industry highly creditable motives, as well as in- 
sanity, lie behind this change of attitude. A real ad- 
vance in charity stopped us talking about "surplus popu- 
lation' ' and started us talking instead about "unemploy- 
ment." The danger is that this should lead us to forget 
that employment is not an end in itself. We want people 
to be employed only as a means to their being fed be- 

79 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

lieving (whether rightly, who knows?) that it is better 
to feed them even for making bad things badly than for 
doing nothing. 

But though we have a duty to feed the hungry, 
I doubt whether we have a duty to "appreciate" the 
ambitious. This attitude to art is fatal to good work. 
Many modern novels, poems, and pictures, which we 
are brow-beaten into "appreciating," are not good work 
because they are not work at all. They are mere puddles 
of spilled sensibility or reflection. When an artist is 
in the strict sense working, he of course takes into ac- 
count the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his 
audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, 
or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, 
tamed, sublimated, not ignored nor defied. Haughty 
indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is 
laziness and incompetence. You have not learned your 
job. Hence, real honest-to-God work, so far as the arts 
are concerned, now appears chiefly in low-brow art; in 
the film, the detective story, the children's story. These 
are often sound structures; seasoned wood, accurately 
dovetailed, the stresses all calculated; skill and labour 
successfully used to do what is intended. Do not mis- 
understand. The high-brow productions may, of coutse, 
reveal a finer sensibility and profounder thought. But 
a puddle is not a work, whatever rich wines or oils or 
medicines have gone into it. 

"Great works" (of art) and "good works" (of charity) 
had better also be Good Work. Let choirs sing well or 
not at all. Otherwise we merely confirm the majority 

80 



GOOD WORK AND GOOD WORKS 

in their conviction that the world of Business, which 
does with such efficiency so much that never really 
needed doing, is the real, the adult, and the practical 
world; and that all this "culture" and all this "religion" 
(horrid words both) are essentially marginal, amateur- 
ish, and rather effeminate activities. 



81 



SIX RELIGION AND ROCKETRY 



AN my time I have heard 

two quite different arguments against my religion put 
forward in the name of science. When I was a young- 
ster, people used to say that the universe was not only 
not friendly to life but positively hostile to it. Life had 
appeared on this planet by a millionth chance, as if at 
one point there had been a breakdown of the elabo- 
rate defenses generally enforced against it. We should 
be rash to assume that such a leak had occurred more 
than once. Probably life was a purely terrestrial ab- 
normality. We were alone in an infinite desert. Which 
just showed the absurdity of the Christian idea that 
there was a Creator who was interested in living crea- 
tures. 

But then came Professor F. B. Hoyle, the Cambridge 
cosmologist, and in a fortnight or so everyone I met 
seemed to have decided that the universe was probably 
quite well provided with inhabitable globes and with 
livestock to inhabit them. Which just showed (equally 
well) the absurdity of Christianity with its parochial 
idea that Man could be important to God. 

83 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

This Is a warning of what we may expect if we ever 
do discover animal life (vegetable does not matter) on 
another planet. Each new discovery, even every new 
theory, is held at first to have the most wide-reaching 
theological and philosophical consequences. It is seized 
by unbelievers as the basis for a new attack on Chris- 
tianity; it is often, and more embarrassingly, seized by 
injudicious believers as the basis for a new defence. 

But usually, when the popular hubbub has subsided 
and the novelty has been chewed over by real theolo- 
gians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides 
find themselves pretty much where they were before. 
So it was with Copernican astronomy, with Darwinism, 
with Biblical Criticism, with the new psychology. So, I 
cannot help expecting, it will be with the discovery of 
"life on other planets" If that discovery is ever made. 

The supposed threat is clearly directed against the 
doctrine of the Incarnation, the belief that God of God 
"for us men and for our salvation came down from 
heaven and was . . . made man." Why for us men 
more than for others? If we find ourselves to be but one 
among a million races, scattered through a million 
spheres, how can we, without absurd arrogance, believe 
ourselves to have been uniquely favored? I admit that 
the question could become formidable. In fact, it will 
become formidable when, if ever, we know the answer 
to five other questions. 

i. Are there animals anywhere except on earth? We 
do not know. We do not know whether we ever shall 
know. 

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RELIGION AND ROCKETRY 

2. Supposing there were, have any of these animals 
what we call "rational souls'? By this I include not 
merely the faculty to abstract and calculate, but the ap- 
prehension of values, the power to mean by "good" 
something more than "good for me" or even "good for 
my species/' If instead of asking, "Have they rational 
souls?" you prefer to ask, "Are they spiritual animals?" 
I think we shall both mean pretty much the same. If the 
answer to either question should be No, then of course 
it would not be at all strange that our species should be 
treated differently from theirs. 

There would be no sense in offering to a creature, 
however clever or amiable, a gift which that creature 
was by its nature incapable either of desiring or of re- 
ceiving. We teach our sons to read but not our dogs. The 
dogs prefer bones. And of course, since we do not yet 
know whether there are extra-terrestrial animals at all, 
we are a long way from knowing that they are rational 
(or "spiritual") . 

Even if we met them we might not find it so easy to 
decide. It seems to me possible to suppose creatures so 
clever that they could talk, though they were, from the 
theological point of view, really only animals, capable 
of pursuing or enjoying only natural ends. One meets 
humans the machine-minded and materialistic urban 
type who look as if they were just that. As Christians 
we must believe the appearance to be false; somewhere 
under that glib surface there lurks, however atrophied, 
a human soul. But in other worlds there might be things 
that really are what these seem to be. Conversely, there 

85 



THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

might be creatures genuinely spiritual, whose powers of 
manufacture and abstract thought were so humble that 
we should mistake them for mere animals. God shield 
them from us! 

3. If there are species, and rational species, other 
than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen? This is 
the point non-Christians always seem to forget. They 
seem to think that the Incarnation implies some partic- 
ular merit or excellence in humanity. But of course it 
implies just the reverse: a particular demerit and de- 
pravity. No creature that deserved Redemption would 
need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not 
the physician. Christ died for men precisely because 
men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it. 
Notice what waves of utterly unwarranted hypothesis 
these critics of Christianity want us to swim through. We 
are now supposing the fall of hypothetically rational 
creatures whose mere existence is hypothetical! 

4. If all of them (and surely all is a long shot) or any 
of them have fallen have they been denied Redemption 
by the Incarnation and Passion of Christ? For of course 
it is no very new idea that the eternal Son may, for all 
we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than 
earth and so saved other races than ours. As Alice Mey- 
nell wrote in "Christ in the Universe": 

. . . in the eternities 

Doubtless we shall compare together, hear 
A million alien Gospels, in what guise 
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear. 

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RELIGION AND ROCKETRY 

I wouldn't go as far as "doubtless" myself. Perhaps of 
all races we only fell. Perhaps Man is the only 
lost sheep; the one, therefore, whom the Shepherd came 
to seek. Or perhaps but this brings us to the next wave 
of assumption. It is the biggest yet and will knock 
us head over heels, but I am fond of a tumble in the surf. 

5. If we knew (which we don't) the answers to i, 2, 
and 3 and, further, if we knew that Redemption by an 
Incarnation and Passion had been denied to creatures 
in need of it is it certain that this is the only mode of 
Redemption that is possible? Here of course we ask for 
what is not merely unknown but, unless God should re- 
veal it, wholly unknowable. It may be that the further 
we were permitted to see into His councils, the more 
clearly we should understand that thus and not other- 
wise by the birth at Bethlehem, the cross on Calvary 
and the empty tomb a fallen race could be rescued. 
There may be a necessity for this, insurmountable, 
rooted in the very nature of God and the very nature of 
sin. But we don't know. At any rate, I don't know. 
Spiritual as well as physical conditions might differ 
widely in different worlds. There might be different 
sorts and different degrees of fallenness. We must surely 
believe that the divine charity is as fertile in resource as 
it is measureless in condescension. To different dis- 
eases, or even to different patients sick with the same 
disease, the great Physician may have applied different 
remedies; remedies which we should probably not rec- 
ognize as such even if we ever heard of them. 

It might turn out that the redemption of other species 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

differed -from ours by working through ours. There is a 
hint o something like this in St. Paul (Romans 8:19- 
23) when he says that the whole creation is longing and 
waiting to be delivered from some kind of slavery, and 
that the deliverance will occur only when we, we Chris- 
tians, fully enter upon our sonship to God and exercise 
our "glorious liberty." 

On the conscious level I believe that he was thinking 
only of our own Earth: of animal, and probably vege- 
table, life on Earth being "renewed" or glorified at the 
glorification of man in Christ. But it is perhaps possible 
it is not necessary to give his words a cosmic mean- 
ing. It may be that Redemption, starting with us, is to 
work from us and through us. 

This would no doubt give man a pivotal position. But 
such a position need not imply any superiority in us or 
any favouritism in God. The general, deciding where to 
begin his attack, does not select the prettiest landscape 
or the most fertile field or the most attractive village. 
Christ was not born in a stable because a stable is, in it- 
self, the most convenient or distinguished place for a 
maternity. 

Only if we had some such function would a contact 
between us and such unknown races be other than a ca- 
lamity. If indeed we were unfallen, it would be an- 
other matter. 

It sets one dreaming to interchange thoughts with 
beings whose thinking had an organic background 
wholly different from ours (other senses, other appe- 
tites), to be unenviously humbled by intellects possibly 

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RELIGION ANB ROCKETRY 

superior to our own yet able for that very reason to de- 
scend to our level, to descend lovingly ourselves if we 
met innocent and childlike creatures who could never 
be as strong or as clever as we, to exchange with the in- 
habitants of other worlds that especially keen and rich 
affection which exists between unlikes; it is a glorious 
dream. But make no mistake. It is a dream. We are 
fallen. 

We know what our race does to strangers. Man de- 
stroys or enslaves every species he can. Civilized man 
murders, enslaves, cheats, and corrupts savage man. 
Even inanimate nature he turns into dust bowls and 
slag-heaps. There are individuals who don't. But they 
are not the sort who are likely to be our pioneers 
in space. Our ambassador to new worlds will be the 
needy and greedy adventurer or the ruthless technical 
expert. They will do as their kind has always done. 
What that will be if they meet things weaker than them- 
selves, the black man and the red man can tell. If they 
meet things stronger, they will be, very properly, des- 
troyed. 

It is interesting to wonder how things would go i 
they met an unfallen race. At first, to be sure, they'd 
have a grand time jeering at, duping, and exploiting its 
innocence; but I doubt if our half-animal cunning 
would long be a match for godlike wisdom, selfless valour, 
and perfect unanimity. 

I therefore fear the practical, not the theoretical, 
problems which will arise if ever we meet rational crea- 
tures which are not human. Against them we shall, i 

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THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

we can, commit all the crimes we have already commit- 
ted against creatures certainly human but differing 
from us in features and pigmentation; and the starry 
heavens will become an object to which good men can 
look up only with feelings of intolerable guilt, agonized 
pity, and burning shame. 

Of course after the first debauch of exploitation we 
shall make some belated attempt to do better. We shall 
perhaps send missionaries. But can even missionaries 
be trusted? "Gun and gospel" have been horribly com- 
bined in the past. The missionary's holy desire to save 
souls has not always been kept quite distinct from 
the arrogant desire, the busybody's itch, to (as he calls 
it) "civilize" the (as he calls them) "natives." Would 
all our missionaries recognize an unfallen race if they 
met it? Could they? Would they continue to press upon 
creatures that did not need to be saved that plan of Sal- 
vation which God has appointed for Man? Would they 
denounce as sins mere differences of behaviour which 
the spiritual and biological history of these strange 
creatures fully justified and which God Himself had 
blessed? Would they try to teach those from whom they 
had better learn? I do not know. 

What I do know is that here and now, as our only pos- 
sible practical preparation for such a meeting, you and I 
should resolve to stand firm against all exploitation and 
all theological imperialism. It will not be fun. We shall 
be called traitors to our own species. We shall be hated 
of almost all men; even of some religious men. And we 
must not give back one single inch. We shall probably 

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RELIGION AND ROCKETRY 

fail, but let us go down fighting for the right side. Oui 
loyalty is due not to our species but to God. Those who 
are, or can become, His sons, are our real brothers even 
if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, 
kinship that counts. 

But let us thank God that we are still very far from 
travel to other worlds. 

I have wondered before now whether the vast 
astronomical distances may not be God's quarantine 
precautions. They prevent the spiritual infection of a 
fallen species from spreading. And of course we are also 
very far from the supposed theological problem which 
contact with other rational species might raise. Such 
species may not exist. There is not at present a shred of 
empirical evidence that they do. There is nothing but 
what the logicians would call arguments from "a priori 
probability" arguments that begin "It is only nat- 
ural to suppose/' or "All analogy suggests/' or "Is it not 
the height of arrogance to rule out ?" They make very 
good reading. But who except a born gambler ever risks 
five dollars on such grounds in ordinary life? 

And, as we have seen, the mere existence of these 
creatures would not raise a problem. After that, we still 
need to know that they are fallen; then, that they have 
not been, or will not be, redeemed in the mode we 
know; and then, that no other mode is possible. I think 
a Christian is sitting pretty if his faith never encount- 
ers more formidable difficulties than these conjectural 
phantoms. 

If I remember rightly, St. Augustine raised a ques- 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

tlon about the theological position of satyrs, monopods, 
and other semi-human creatures. He decided it could 
wait till we knew there were any. So can this. 

"But supposing/' you say. "Supposing all these em- 
barrassing suppositions turned out to be true?" I can 
only record a conviction that they won't; a conviction 
which has for me become in the course of years irresist- 
ible. Christians and their opponents again and again ex- 
pect that some new discovery will either turn matters of 
faith into matters of knowledge or else reduce them to 
patent absurdities. But it has never happened. 

What we believe always remains intellectually possi- 
ble; it never becomes intellectually compulsive. I have 
an Idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be 
ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive 
evidence against Christianity, evidence that would de- 
ceive (If it were possible) the very elect, will appear 
with Antichrist. 

And after that there will be wholly conclusive 
evidence on the other side. 

But not, I fancy, till then on either side. 



SEVEN - THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 



T 

JLH; 



.HERE are many rea- 
sons why the modern Christian and even the modern 
theologian may hesitate to give to the doctrine of 
Christ's Second Coming that emphasis which was 
usually laid on it by our ancestors. Yet it seems to me 
impossible to retain in any recognisable form our belief 
in the Divinity of Christ and the truth of the Christian 
revelation while abandoning, or even persistently neg- 
lecting, the promised, and threatened, Return. "He 
shall come again to judge the quick and the dead/' says 
the Apostles' Creed. "This same Jesus/' said the angels 
in Acts, "shall so come in like manner as ye have seen 
him go into heaven." "Hereafter/' said our Lord him- 
self (by those words inviting crucifixion) , "shall ye 
see the Son of Man . . . coming in the clouds of 
heaven." If this is not an integral part of the faith once 
given to the saints, I do not know what is. In the follow- 
ing pages I shall endeavour to deal with some of the 
thoughts that may deter modern men from a firm belief 
in, or a due attention to, the return or Second Coming 
of the Saviour. I have no claim to speak as an expert in 

93 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

any of the studies involved, and merely put forward the 
reflections which have arisen in my own mind and have 
seemed to me (perhaps wrongly) to be helpful. They 
are all submitted to the correction of wiser heads. 

The grounds for modern embarrassment about this 
doctrine fall into two groups, which may be called the 
theoretical and the practical. 1 will deal with the theo- 
retical first. 

Many are shy of this doctrine because they are react- 
ing (in my opinion very properly reacting) against a 
school of thought which is associated with the great 
name of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. According to that school, 
Christ's teaching about his own return and the end of 
the world what theologians call his ' "apocalyptic" 
was the very essence of his message. All his other doc- 
trines radiated from it; his moral teaching everywhere 
presupposed a speedy end of the world. If pressed to 
an extreme, this view, as I think Chesterton said, 
amounts to seeing in Christ little more than an earlier 
William Miller, who created a local "scare." I am not 
saying that Dr. Schweitzer pressed it to that conclusion: 
but it has seemed to some that his thought invites us in 
that direction. Hence, from fear of that extreme, arises 
a tendency to soft-pedal what Schweitzer's school has 
overemphasized. 

For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only 
in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very 
good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard 
who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it 
next time on the left. I am convinced that those who 

94 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

find in Christ's apocalyptic the whole of his message are 
mistaken. But a thing does not vanish it is not even 
discredited because someone has spoken of it with 
exaggeration. It remains exactly where it was. The only 
difference is that if it has recently been exaggerated, 
we must now take special care not to overlook it; for 
that is the side on which the drunk man is now 
most likely to fall off. 

The very name "apocalyptic 7 ' assigns our Lord's 
predictions of the Second Coming to a class. There are 
other specimens of it: the Apocalypse of Baruch, the 
Book of Enoch, or the Ascension of Isaiah. Christians 
are far from regarding such texts as Holy Scripture, 
and to most modern tastes the genre appears tedious and 
unedifying. Hence there arises a feeling that our Lord's 
predictions, being "much the same sort of thing/' are 
discredited. The charge against them might be put 
either in a harsher or a gentler form. The harsher form 
would run, in the mouth of an atheist, something like 
this: "You see that, after all, your vaunted Jesus was 
really the same sort of crank or charlatan as all the other 
writers of apocalyptic." The gentler form, used more 
probably by a modernist, would be like this: "Every 
great man is partly of his own age and partly for all 
time. What matters in his work is always that which 
transcends his age, not that which he shared with a thou- 
sand forgotten contemporaries. We value Shakespeare 
for the glory of his language and his knowledge of the 
human heart, which were his own; not for his belief in 
witches or the divine right of kings, or his failure to 

95 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

take a daily bath. So with Jesus. His belief in a speedy 
and catastrophic end to history belongs to him not as a 
great teacher but as a first-century Palestinian peasant. 
It was one of his inevitable limitations, best forgotten. 
We must concentrate on what distinguished him from 
other first-century Palestinian peasants, on his moral 
and social teaching/' 

As an argument against the reality of the Second 
Coming this seems to me to beg the question at issue. 
When we propose to ignore in a great man's teaching 
those doctrines which it has in common with the 
thought of his age, we seem to be assuming that the 
thought of his age was erroneous. When we select for 
serious consideration those doctrines which "transcend" 
the thought of his own age and are "for all time/' we 
are assuming that the thought of our age is correct: for 
of course by thoughts which transcend the great man's 
age we really mean thoughts that agree with ours. Thus 
I value Shakespeare's picture of the transformation in 
old Lear more than I value his views about the divine 
right of kings, because I agree with Shakespeare that a 
man can be purified by suffering like Lear, but do not 
believe that kings (or any other rulers) have divine 
right in the sense required. When the great man's views 
do not seem to us erroneous we do not value them the 
less for having been shared with his contemporaries. 
Shakespeare's disdain for treachery and Christ's blessing 
on the poor were not alien to the outlook of their re- 
spective periods; but no one wishes to discredit them on 
that account. No one would reject Christ's apocalyptic 

96 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

on the ground that apocalyptic was common In first- 
century Palestine unless he had already decided that the 
thought o first-century Palestine was in that respect 
mistaken. But to have so decided is surely to have 
begged the question; for the question is whether the 
expectation of a catastrophic and Divinely ordered end 
of the present universe is true or false. 

If we have an open mind on that point, the whole 
problem is altered. If such an end is really going to oc- 
cur, and if (as is the case) the Jews had been trained by 
their religion to expect it, then it is very natural that 
they should produce apocalyptic literature. On that 
view, our Lord's production of something like the other 
apocalyptic documents would not necessarily result 
from his supposed bondage to the errors of his period, 
but would be the Divine exploitation of a sound ele- 
ment in contemporary Judaism: nay, the time and place 
in which it pleased him to be incarnate would, pre- 
sumably, have been chosen because, there and then, 
that element existed, and had, by his eternal providence, 
been developed for that very purpose. For if we once 
accept the doctrine of the Incarnation, we must surely 
be very cautious in suggesting that any circumstance 
in the culture of first-century Palestine was a hamper- 
ing or distorting influence upon his teaching. Do we 
suppose that the scene of God's earthly life was selected 
at random? that some other scene would have served 
better? 

But there is worse to come. "Say what you like/* we 
shall be told, "the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Chris- 

97 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

tians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the 
New Testament that they all expected the Second 
Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they 
had a reason, and one which you will find very embar- 
rassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and 
indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many 
words, 'this generation shall not pass till all these things 
be done/ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more 
about the end of the world than anyone else." 

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bi- 
ble. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of 
it should come the statement "But of that day and that 
hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are In 
heaven, neither the Son, but the Father/' The one ex- 
hibition of error and the one confession of ignorance 
grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of 
Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the 
reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter 
were perfectly honest he would never have recorded 
the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no 
motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole 
truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest 
they would never have preserved the (apparently) mis- 
taken prediction about "this generation** after the pas- 
sage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This 
passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry "Why hast thou 
forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) together make up the 
strongest proof that the New Testament is historically 
reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteris- 

98 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

tic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, 
at first sight, damaging to their main contention. 

The facts, then, are these: that Jesus professed him- 
self (in some sense) ignorant, and within a moment 
showed that he really was so. To believe in the Incarna- 
tion, to believe that he is God, makes it hard to under- 
stand how he could be ignorant; but also makes it cer- 
tain that, if he said he could be ignorant, then ignorant 
he could really be. For a God who can be ignorant is 
less baffling than a God who falsely professes ignorance. 
The answer of theologians is that the God-Man was 
omniscient as God, and ignorant as Man. This, no 
doubt, is true, though it cannot be imagined. Nor in- 
deed can the unconsciousness of Christ in sleep be im- 
agined, nor the twilight of reason in his infancy; still 
less his merely organic life in his mother's womb. But 
the physical sciences, no less than theology, propose for 
our belief much that cannot be imagined. 

A generation which has accepted the curvature of 
space need not boggle at the Impossibility of imagin- 
ing the consciousness of incarnate God. In that con- 
sciousness the temporal and the timeless were united. 
I think we can acquiesce in mystery at that point, pro- 
vided we do not aggravate it by our tendency to picture 
the timeless life of God as, simply, another sort of 
time. We are committing that blunder whenever we 
ask how Christ could be at the same moment ignorant 
and omniscient, or how he could be the God who nei- 
ther slumbers nor sleeps while he slept. The italicized 

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THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

words conceal an attempt to establish a temporal rela- 
tion between his timeless life as God and the days, 
months, and years o his life as Man. And of course 
there is no such relation. The Incarnation is not an epi- 
sode in the life of God: the Lamb is slain and there- 
fore presumably born, grown to maturity, and risen 
from all eternity. The taking up into God's nature of 
humanity, with all its ignorances and limitations, is 
not itself a temporal event, though the humanity which 
is so taken up was, like our own, a thing living and dy- 
ing in time. And if limitation, and therefore ignorance, 
was thus taken up, we ought to expect that the ignorance 
should at some time be actually displayed. It would be 
difficult, and, to me, repellent, to suppose that Jesus 
never asked a genuine question, that is, a question to 
which he did not know the answer. That would make of 
his humanity something so unlike ours as scarcely to de- 
serve the name. I find it easier to believe that when he 
said "Who touched me?" (Luke 7:45) he really wanted 
to know. 

The difficulties which I have so far discussed are, to a 
certain extent, debating points. They tend rather to 
strengthen a disbelief already based on other grounds 
than to create disbelief by their own force. We are now 
coming to something much more important and often 
less fully conscious. The doctrine of the Second Com- 
ing is deeply uncongenial to the whole evolutionary or 
developmental character of modern thought. We have 
been taught to think of the world as something that 
grows slowly towards perfection, something that "pro- 

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THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

gresses" or "evolves/ 7 Christian Apocalyptic offers us no 
such hope. It does not even foretell (which would be 
more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual de- 
cay. It foretells a sudden, violent end imposed from 
without; an extinguisher popped onto the candle, a 
brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on 
the play "Halt!" 

To this deep-seated objection I can only reply that, 
in my opinion, the modern conception of Progress or 
Evolution (as popularly imagined) is simply a myth, 
supported by no evidence whatever. 

I say "evolution, as popularly imagined." I am not 
in the least concerned to refute Darwinism as a theorem 
in biology. There may be flaws in that theorem, but I 
have here nothing to do with them. There may be signs 
that biologists are already contemplating a withdrawal 
from the whole Darwinian position, but I claim to be no 
judge of such signs. It can even be argued that what Dar- 
win really accounted for was not the origin, but the 
elimination, of species, but I will not pursue that argu- 
ment. For purposes of this article I am assuming that 
Darwinian biology is correct. What I want to point out 
is the illegitimate transition from the Darwinian theo- 
rem in biology to the modern myth of evolutionism or 
developmentalism or progress in general. 

The first thing to notice is that the myth arose earlier 
than the theorem, in advance of all evidence. Two great 
works of art embody the idea of a universe in which, by 
some inherent necessity, the "higher" always supersedes 
the "lower/* One is Keats's Hyperion and the other is 

101 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

Wagner's Nibelung's Ring. And they are both earlier 
than the Origin of Species. You could not have a clearer 
expression of the developmental or progressive idea 
than Oceanus' words 

'tis the eternal law 
That first in beauty should be first in might. 

And you could not have a more ardent submission to it 
than those words in which Wagner describes his 
tetralogy. 

The progress of the whole poem., therefore [he writes 
to Rocket in 1854], shows the necessity of recognising, 
and submitting to, the change^ the diversity, the multi- 
plicity, and the eternal novelty., of the Real. Wotan rises 
to the tragic heights of willing his own downfall. This 
is all that we have to learn from the history of Man 
to will the Necessary, and ourselves to bring it to pass. 
The creative work which this highest and self-renounc- 
ing will finally accomplishes is the fearless and ever- 
loving man, Siegfried.* 

* "Der Fortgang des ganzen Gedichtes zeigt demnach die Notwen- 
digkeit, den Wechsel, die Mannigfaltigkeit, die Vielheit, die ewige 
Neuheit der Wirklichkeit und des Lebens anzuerkennen und ihr zu 
weichen. Wotan schwingt sick bis zu der tragischen Hohe, seinen 
Untergang zu wollen. Dies ist alles, was wir aus der Geschichte der 
Menscheit zu lernen haben: das Notwendige zu wollen und selbst zu 
vollbringen. Das Schopfungswerk dieses hochsten, selbst vernichtenden 
Willens ist der endlich gewonnene furchtlo$e f stets liebende Mensch; 
Siegfried." 

Fuller research into the origins of this potent myth would lead us 
to the German idealists and thence (as I have heard suggested) through 
Boehme back to Alchemy. Is the whole dialectical view of history pos- 
sibly a gigantic projection of the old dream that we can make gold? 

1O2 



THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

The Idea that the myth (so potent in all modem 
thought) is a result of Darwin's biology would thus 
seem to be unhistorical. On the contrary, the attraction 
o Darwinism was that it gave to a pre-existing myth the 
scientific reassurances it required. If no evidence for 
evolution had been forthcoming, it would have been 
necessary to invent it. The real sources of the myth are 
partly political. It projects onto the cosmic screen 
feelings engendered by the Revolutionary period. 

In the second place, we must notice that Darwinism 
gives no support to the belief that natural selection, 
working upon chance variations, has a general tendency 
to produce improvement. The illusion that it has comes 
from confining our attention to a few species which 
have (by some possibly arbitrary standard of our own) 
changed for the better. Thus the horse has improved in 
the sense that protohippos would be less useful to us 
than his modern descendant. The anthropoid has im- 
proved in the sense that he now is Ourselves. But a great 
many of the changes produced by evolution are not im- 
provements by any conceivable standard. In battle men 
save their lives sometimes by advancing and sometimes 
by retreating. So, in the battle for survival, species save 
themselves sometimes by increasing, sometimes by 
jettisoning, their powers. There is no general law of 
progress in biological history. 

And, thirdly, even if there were, it would not follow 
it is, indeed, manifestly not the case that there is 
any law of progress in ethical, cultural, and social his- 
tory. No one looking at world history without some pre- 

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THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT 

conception In favor of progress could find in it a steady 
up gradient. There is often progress within a given field 
over a limited period. A school of pottery or painting, a 
moral effort in a particular direction, a practical art like 
sanitation or shipbuilding, may continuously improve 
over a number of years. If this process could spread to 
all departments of life and continue indefinitely, there 
would be "Progress" of the sort our fathers believed in. 
But it never seems to do so. Either it is interrupted (by 
barbarian irruption or the even less resistible infiltra- 
tion of modern industrialism) or else, more myste- 
riously, it decays. The idea which here shuts out the 
Second Coming from our minds, the idea of the world 
slowly ripening to perfection, is a myth, not a generali- 
zation from experience. And it is a myth which dis- 
tracts us from our real duties and our real interest. It is 
our attempt to guess the plot of a drama in which we 
are the characters. But how can the characters in a play 
guess the plot? We are not the playwright, we are not 
the producer, we are not even the audience. We are on 
the stage. To play well the scenes in which we are "on" 
concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes 
that follow it. 

In King Lear (Illrvii) there is a man who is such a 
minor character that Shakespeare has not given him 
even a name: he is merely "First Servant/' All the char- 
acters around him Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund 
have fine long-term plans. They think they know how 
the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong. The 
servant has no such delusions. He has no notion how 

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the play is going to go. But he understands the present 
scene. He sees an abomination (the blinding of old 
Gloucester) taking place. He will not stand it. His sword 
is out and pointed at his master's breast in a moment: 
then Regan stabs him dead from behind. That is his 
whole part: eight lines all told. But if it were real life 
and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have 
acted. 

The doctrine of the Second Coming teaches us that 
we do not and cannot know when the world drama will 
end. The curtain may be rung down at any moment: 
say, before you have finished reading this paragraph. 
This seems to some people intolerably frustrating. So 
many things would be interrupted. Perhaps you were 
going to get married next month, perhaps you were go- 
ing to get a raise next week: you may be on the verge of 
a great scientific discovery; you may be maturing great 
social and political reforms. Surely no good and wise 
God would be so very unreasonable as to cut all this 
short? Not now> of all moments! 

But we think thus because we keep on assuming that 
we know the play. We do not know the play. We do not 
even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do 
not know who are the major and who the minor char- 
acters. The Author knows. The audience, if there is an 
audience (if angels and archangels and all the company 
of heaven fill the pit and the stalls) may have an ink- 
ling. But we, never seeing the play from outside, never 
meeting any characters except the tiny minority who 
are "on" in the same scenes as ourselves, wholly igno- 

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rant of the future and very imperfectly informed about 
the past, cannot tell at what moment the end ought to 
come. That it will come when it ought, we may be sure; 
but we waste our time in guessing when that will be. 
That it has a meaning we may be sure, but we cannot 
see it. When it is over, we may be told. We are led to 
expect that the Author will have something to say to 
each of us on the part that each of us has played. The 
playing it well is what matters infinitely. 

The doctrine of the Second Coming, then, is not to 
be rejected because it conflicts with our favorite mod- 
ern mythology. It is, for that very reason, to be the more 
valued and made more frequently the subject of medi- 
tation. It is the medicine our condition especially needs. 

And with that, I turn to the practical. There is a real 
difficulty in giving this doctrine the place which it ought 
to have in our Christian life without, at the same time, 
running a certain risk. The fear of that risk probably 
deters many teachers who accept the doctrine from say- 
ing very much about it. 

We must admit at once that this doctrine has, in the 
past, led Christians into very great follies. Apparently 
many people find it difficult to believe in this great 
event without trying to guess its date, or even without 
accepting as a certainty the date that any quack or hys- 
teric offers them. To write a history of all these ex- 
ploded predictions would need a book, and a sad, sordid, 
tragi-comical book it would be. One such prediction was 
circulating when St. Paul wrote his second letter to the 
Thessalonians. Someone had told them that "the Day" 

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THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

was "at hand." This was apparently having the result 
which such predictions usually have: people were idling 
and playing the busybody. One of the most famous pre- 
dictions was that of poor William Miller in 1843. Miller 
(whom I take to have been an honest fanatic) dated the 
Second Coming to the year, the day, and the very min- 
ute. A timely comet fostered the delusion. Thousands 
waited for the Lord at midnight on March 2ist, and 
went home to a late breakfast on the 22nd followed by 
the jeers of a drunkard. 

Clearly, no one wishes to say anything that will 
reawaken such mass hysteria. We must never speak to 
simple, excitable people about "the Day" without em- 
phasizing again and again the utter impossibility of pre- 
diction. We must try to show them that that impossibil- 
ity is an essential part of the doctrine. If you do not be- 
lieve our Lord's words, why do you believe in his return 
at all? And if you do believe them must you not put 
away from you, utterly and forever, any hope of dating 
that return? His teaching on the subject quite clearly 
consisted of three propositions, (i) That he will cer- x 
tainly return. (2) That we cannot possibly find out 
when. (3) And that therefore we must ahvays be ready 
for him. 

Note the therefore. Precisely because we cannot pre- 
dict the moment, we must be ready at all moments. Our 
Lord repeated this practical conclusion again and again; 
as if the promise of the Return had been made for the 
sake of this conclusion alone. Watch, watch, is the bur- 
den of his advice. I shall come like a thief. You will not, 

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I most solemnly assure you you will not, see me ap- 
proaching. If the householder had known at what time 
the burglar would arrive, he would have been ready for 
him. If the servant had known when his absent em- 
ployer would come home, he would not have been 
found drunk in the kitchen. But they didn't Nor will 
you. Therefore you must be ready at all times. The 
point is surely simple enough. The schoolboy does not 
know which part of his Virgil lesson he will be made to 
translate: that is why he must be prepared to translate 
any passage. The sentry does not know at what time an 
enemy will attack, or an officer inspect, his post: that is 
why he must keep awake all the time. The Return is 
wholly unpredictable. There will be wars and rumours 
of wars and all kinds of catastrophes, as there always are. 
Things will be, in that sense, normal, the hour before 
the heavens roll up like a scroll. You cannot guess it. If 
you could, one chief purpose for which it was foretold 
would be frustrated. And God's purposes are not so 
easily frustrated as that. One's ears should be closed 
against any future William Miller in advance. The 
folly of listening to him at all is almost equal to the folly 
of believing him. He couldn't know what he pretends, 
or thinks, he knows. 

Of this folly George MacDonald has written well 
"Do those/' he asks, "who say, Lo here or lo there are 
the signs of his coming, think to be too keen for him 
and spy his approach? When he tells them to watch lest 
he find them neglecting their work, they stare this way 

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and that, and watch lest he should succeed in coming 
like a thief! Obedience is the one key of life/' 

The doctrine of the Second Coming has failed, so far 
as we are concerned, if it does not make us realize that 
at every moment of every year in our lives Donne's ques- 
tion "What if this present were the world's last night?" 
is equally relevant. 

Sometimes this question has been pressed upon our 
minds with the purpose of exciting fear. I do not think 
that is its right use. I am, indeed, far from agreeing with 
those who think all religious fear barbarous and degrad- 
ing and demand that it should be banished from the 
spiritual life. Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. 
But so do several other things ignorance, alcohol, pas- 
sion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable 
that we should all advance to that perfection of love in 
which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, 
until we have reached that stage, that we should allow 
any inferior agent to cast out our fear. The objection 
to any attempt at perpetual trepidation about the Sec- 
ond Coming is, in my view, quite a different one: 
namely, that it will certainly not succeed. Fear is 
an emotion: and it is quite impossible even physically 
impossible to maintain any emotion for very long. A 
perpetual excitement of hope about the Second Com- 
ing is impossible for the same reason. Crisis-feeling of 
any sort is essentially transitory. Feelings come and go, 
and when they come a good use can be made of them: 
they cannot be our regular spiritual diet. 

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What is important is not that we should always fear 
(or hope) about the End but that we should always re- 
member, always take it into account. An analogy may 
here help. A man of seventy need not be always feeling 
(much less talking) about his approaching death: but 
a wise man of seventy should always take it into account. 
He would be foolish to embark on schemes which pre- 
suppose twenty more years of life: he would be crimi- 
nally foolish not to make indeed, not to have made 
long since his will. Now, what death is to each man, 
the Second Coming is to the whole human race. We all 
believe, I suppose, that a man should "sit loose" to his 
own individual life, should remember how short, pre- 
carious, temporary, and provisional a thing it is; should 
never give all his heart to anything which will end when 
his life ends. What modern Christians find it harder to 
remember is that the whole life of humanity in this 
world is also precarious, temporary, provisional. 

Any moralist will tell you that the personal triumph 
of an athlete or of a girl at a ball is transitory: the point 
is to remember that an empire or a civilisation is also 
transitory. All achievements and triumphs, in so far as 
they are merely this-worldly achievements and tri- 
umphs, will come to nothing in the end. Most scientists 
here join hands with the theologians; the earth will not 
always be habitable. Man, though longer-lived than 
men, is equally mortal. The difference is that whereas 
the scientists expect only a slow decay from within, we 
reckon with sudden interruption from without at any 

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THE WORLD S LAST NIGHT 

moment. ("What if this present were the world's last 
night?") 

Taken by themselves, these considerations might 
seem to invite a relaxation of our efforts for the good of 
posterity: but if we remember that w T hat may be upon 
us at any moment is not merely an End but a Judg- 
ment, they should have no such result. They may, and 
should, correct the tendency of some moderns to talk as 
though duties to posterity were the only duties we had. 
I can imagine no man who will look with more horror 
on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, 
in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injus- 
tices inflicted on millions of his contemporaries by the 
benefits which he hopes to confer on future genera- 
tions: generations who, as one terrible moment now 
reveals to him, were never going to exist. Then he will 
see the massacres, the faked trials, the deportations, to 
be all ineffaceably real, an essential part, his part, in 
the drama that has just ended: while the future Utopia 
had never been anything but a fantasy. 

Frantic administration of panaceas to the world is 
certainly discouraged by the reflection that "this pres- 
ent" might be "the world's last night"; sober work for 
the future, within the limits of ordinary morality and 
prudence, is not. For what comes is Judgment: happy 
are those whom it finds labouring in their vocations, 
whether they were merely going out to feed the pigs or 
laying good plans to deliver humanity a hundred years 
hence from some great evil. The curtain has indeed now 

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fallen. Those pigs will never In fact be fed, the great 
campaign against White Slavery or Governmental Tyr- 
anny will never in fact proceed to victory. No matter; 
you were at your post when the Inspection came. 

Our ancestors had a habit of using the word "judg- 
ment" in this context as if it meant simply "punish- 
ment": hence the popular expression, "It's a judgment 
on him.*' I believe we can sometimes render the thing 
more vivid to ourselves by taking judgment in a stricter 
sense: not as the sentence or award, but as the Verdict. 
Some day (and "What if this present were the world's 
last night?") an absolutely correct verdict if you like, 
a perfect critique will be passed on what each of us is. 

We have all encountered judgments or verdicts on 
ourselves in this life. Every now and then we discover 
what our fellow creatures really think of us. I don't of 
course mean what they tell us to our faces: that we 
usually have to discount. I am thinking of what 
we sometimes overhear by accident or of the opinions 
about us which our neighbours or employees or subordi- 
nates unknowingly reveal in their actions: and of the ter- 
rible, or lovely, judgments artlessly betrayed by chil- 
dren or even animals. Such discoveries can be the bit- 
terest or sweetest experiences we have. But of course 
both the bitter and the sweet are limited by our doubt 
as to the wisdom of those who judge. We always hope 
that those who so clearly think us cowards or bullies are 
ignorant and malicious; we always fear that those who 
trust us or admire us are misled by partiality. I sup- 
pose the experience of the Final Judgment (which may 

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break in upon us at any moment) will be like these lit- 
tle experiences, but magnified to the Nth. 

For it will be infallible judgment. If it is favorable 
we shall have no fear, if unfavorable, no hope, that it is 
wrong. We shall not only believe, we shall know, know 
beyond doubt in every fibre of our appalled or delighted 
being, that as the Judge has said, so we are: neither 
more nor less nor other. We shall perhaps even realise 
that in some dim fashion we could have known it all 
along. We shall know and all creation will know too: 
our ancestors, our parents, our wives or husbands, our 
children. The unanswerable and (by then) self-evident 
truth about each will be known to all. 

1 do not find that pictures of physical catastrophe 
that sign in the clouds, those heavens rolled up like a 
scroll help one so much as the naked idea of Judg- 
ment. We cannot always be excited. We can, perhaps, 
train ourselves to ask more and more often how the 
thing which we are saying or doing (or failing to do) at 
each moment will look when the irresistible light 
streams in upon it; that light which is so different from 
the light of this world and yet, even now, we know 
just enough of it to take it into account. Women some- 
times have the problem of trying to judge by artificial 
light how a dress will look by daylight. That is very 
like the problem of all of us: to dress our souls not for 
the electric lights of the present world but for the day- 
light of the next. The good dress is the one that will face 
that light. For that light will last longer. 

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